Pollinators prepare for winter
It’s morning in Placerville, at the County Park, and the sky is a nondescript gray, dull against the vibrant yellow of the willows shedding their leaves along the San Miguel River.
In the high peaks, the first snow has already come, bringing to the valley the defining colors of fall, along with shorter days and slow mornings cloaked in cold mist.
The center of the park’s open lawn is disrupted by a garden which, even late in the season, is full of vibrant blossoms.
The garden was originally planted six years ago, and Parks Supervisor Rich Hamilton says it’s been growing ever since.
“At that time it was about forty to fifty different species of plants. Now we're up to over 75 different species of plants,” said Hamilton.
“95% of those are native. The five percent that are not native, we’re seeing how it goes with those, but we try to keep it as native as possible.”
Hamilton explains that what makes this garden unique is that it's not directly for county residents, and it’s not even mainly about the plants.
Rather, Hamilton says, “it’s all about the butterflies, the bees and the hummingbirds. It’s not really a garden for the people; it’s a garden for the pollinators.”
Installed by the former county commissioner Art Goodtimes, the garden is an initiative of San Miguel County to support pollinating insects in our region.
The garden’s main caretaker, Jacqueline Hudson says that maintaining blooms throughout the growing season is essential for pollinator health.
“With this garden in particular, you know there’s different plants that flower at different times. And one of the things that Rich has incorporated into this garden very, very, well is that there are very early spring bloomers, there are summer bloomers, and, as you can see, there are fall bloomers. Each species of plant has its own schedule, and we as humans are supposed to work with that schedule in order to promote the pollinator population,” said Hudson.
Come fall, pollinators are eager to tank up on reserves for the winter hibernation.
Hudson says late into the season she is surrounded by activity, never gardening alone.
“On the goldenrod, especially when it’s sunny out, you can see at least half a dozen different species of pollinators on the same plant,” she said.
Late blooming flowers are also essential to migratory insects.
Hudson says she and Hamilton have planted milkweed in the hopes of seeing monarchs return to the valley.
“That’s kind of been a dream of mine as a gardener,” she says.
“I want to see a monarch butterfly on this side of the divide in this habitat in San Miguel County.”
Alongside the insects, the gardeners prepare for winter in their own way.
The full process involves laying in mulch, planting some seeds which need to overwinter, and harvesting seeds which can be planted next year.
Beyond these tasks, Hudson says, she lets nature take care of itself.
“Basically, I let it go. Goldenrod, bee-balm, echinacea, all of these species of plants have seeds that are eaten by birds and small mammals during the winter, so I leave all of that standing, because birds gotta eat too! And then when the snows come, the snows fold all of that over the ground,” said Hudson.
The snow and vegetation become a blanket which covers the earth and its creatures.
For anyone wishing to get into the garden in a future season, Hamilton says that every little bit of flowering earth will help to strengthen a county wide network of pollinators.
“It starts in your backyard and little pockets around your homes. If you can plant native perennials, annuals and shrubs, even trees are pollinators, then you’re helping out. We have plans for future pollinator projects with San Miguel County. Little pockets around the bus stop in Placerville for example, just to give these species little hops and skips to get from one garden to another,” said Hamilton.
Hudson adds that the insects unique to this region thrive alongside our native plants.
If you want to have a focus on Colorado native plants, that’s great, because the Colorado native plants have evolved with the Colorado native pollinators, so they inevitably go together like peanut butter and jelly, she says.
Information and classes on regional gardening initiatives can be found through the Colorado State Extension, which has offices in Norwood.
This story from KOTO was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.
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