Tag Archives: Leah Hawthorn

A Guide to Gardening for Pollinators


A male monarch on a Common Milkweed plant.

Monarch butterflies are quickly approaching the Northeast! Record your sightings and follow the spring 2016 monarch migration by visiting the Journey North website. When monarchs arrive, they will be searching for milkweed, their host plant. Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on milkweed and the caterpillars will hatch and eat the leaves. We can provide habitat to monarchs and other pollinating insects in a few easy steps!


Students planting native plants at their school garden.

Step 1: Use Native Plants. Native plants are indigenous to your area and are the most helpful to native pollinators. A mixture of native host plants and nectar plants will provide the necessary food and shelter these insects need.  Host plants, like milkweed and dill, are essential in the lifecycle of monarchs and swallowtail butterflies. Nectar plants, like irises, beebalm, and geraniums provide additional food to keep adult monarchs and other pollinators fed.

Step 2: Mix it up! Different color flowers will attract different pollinators. Yellow Black-eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers, and Blue Wood Asters are a few good examples of different color flowers. When choosing a location for your plants, be sure to plant your flowers in bunches, so they are easily spotted from a pollinator flying above.

Step 3: Keep it blooming: Most flowers only bloom through one or two seasons, so choosing a few flowers that bloom at different times will ensure pollinators visit throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Local nurseries are a great resource for determining bloom times and which plants are native to your area. For additional plant details, visit the USDA Plant Database.

It’s time to enjoy your garden! Native plants require very little maintenance because they are already accustomed to the climate and rainfall. Avoid pesticides and insecticides, as they are harmful to pollinators. Using a natural, leaf based mulch with low acidity will greatly reduce time spent weeding. Native plant nurseries are always available to assist when looking for plants and resources.

Click here to learn more about monarchs and pollinators.


Planting for pollinators at a Philly landmark

As warmer weather arrives in the Northeast, flowers and trees are blooming and pollinating insects are emerging. What better time to continue our project installing a pollinator garden at Independence National Historical Park! While bees, moths, and flies are enjoying the spring weather, monarch butterflies are making their journey north from Mexico and should be arriving in areas throughout the Northeast in about a month! The monarchs arriving will be the offspring of monarchs that overwintered in Mexico, and will use this garden and others like it. Be sure to plant milkweed for monarchs!


Student Conservation Association Community Crews with their completed garden

Last month, we partnered with our friends at the National Park Service to begin work with Student Conservation Association community crews on phase one of this project. The garden will provide wildlife-friendly green space for people, as well as habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators. In addition to great habitat, this garden will be a useful tool in reaching the community and its visitors to share the importance of pollinators, especially for our nation’s agricultural crops. It will also extend the reach of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge further into the city, providing an opportunity for people to learn more about wildlife conservation, especially those who may not normally not get a chance to visit the refuge in southwest Philly.

On our first days at the garden, we tackled weeds and demolished the garden’s existing English ivy. Most recently, community crews returned to plant the native wildflowers for our local pollinators.

Planting begins!

Planting begins!

The morning was very busy as we worked to distribute mulch and prepare the ground for plants.


Spreading mulch….and taking a few pics!

After lunch, we transitioned into planting the native wildflowers! Hundreds of plugs were carefully laid out and planted. While these plugs look little now, beebalm, irises, asters and more will soon populate the entire space. The flowers were carefully selected to be several different colors and bloom throughout the spring, summer, and fall. This will attract many different species of pollinators and ensure they have food throughout the year.

Plugs laid out for planting.

Plugs laid out for planting.


Transplanting young plants can be delicate work and the students took it seriously.

Right now, we wait. We’re watering the plants and checking their progress; they seem to be doing okay. Check out the different stages of the garden below and stay tuned for the next installment!

Click here to learn more about you can help monarchs and other pollinators.

A Place for Pollinators at Independence Hall

With help from the National Park Service, staff from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum and our Student Conservation Association community crews have begun the first phase of a pollinator garden project at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia!  This garden will extend the reach of the refuge further into the city, and will provide a chance for people to learn more about the Fish and Wildlife Service, especially those who may not normally not get a chance to visit the refuge. Located behind the Free Quaker Meeting House, visitors to Independence Hall will also be able to enjoy a pollinator friendly garden as well as a shaded place to rest during their tours at the park.

SCA Crew Leaders Chuck Lafferty and Terry Williams working with interns to remove ivy.

SCA Crew Leaders Chuck Lafferty and Terry Williams working with interns to remove ivy.

Crews, leaders, and partners worked all morning to extract the previously existing shrubs and debris to prepare the site for planting flowers in April. Throughout the day, crews worked diligently to loosen soil, pull weeds, and trim trees. The biggest challenge of the day was removing a large patch of English Ivy, a stubborn plant capable of resprouting from the tiniest root left behind in the soil.

SCA Philadelphia/Camden interns showing their work .

SCA Philadelphia/Camden interns showing their work .

After working up an appetite, the crews refueled and were quickly back to complete the ivy demolition. Much of the afternoon consisted of mixing the existing soil with fresh mushroom soil for added nutrients. Many hands made for light work, and two truckloads of soil were quickly distributed.

Crews tackled this big root ball.

Crews tackled this big root ball.

Upon completion, this future garden will be a pollinator pit stop filled with Pennsylvania native wildflowers and shrubs. We will also plant common milkweed and butterfly weed to create habitat for the monarch butterfly. For park visitors, an informative wayside will share the importance of these pollinators for our flowers, home gardens, and agricultural crops. Stayed tuned for news as we make progress on this project, and for more amazing work from our SCA crews, staff, and partners. Take a look below at the before and after photos; we did some great work!