Planting this weekend? Here are some tips for a pollinator's paradise

Whether you're an avid gardener or are just beginning to cultivate a green thumb, the long weekend in May is a perfect time to start wiggling your fingers in the dirt.

The forecast is calling for rain and sun, so there will be time to plan and time to plant.

"You know, start small if you've never done it before, start small. Don't go big," is Holly McComber's advice for the uninitiated.

A resident of Kahnawake, McComber (her Mohawk name is Iekwirahawi), is passionate about the outdoors and worked for the community's Environment Protection Office for decades.

Gardening is a source of great joy for McComber "because you're reconnecting to the environment, and everybody has that connection. We just need to remember it," she said.

"I love to plant flowers and food at the same time because the flowers attract the pollinators for your vegetables. You need it. You need both of them," she said.

PREPARE YOUR SOIL

It's important first to lay the foundation and use good, healthy soil that's moist and that retains the moisture.

If you're going to use bagged soil purchased at a store, it will be dry, and so "you have to make sure you water it before you put the plants in," said McComber.



She said that using products like "perlite" or "vermiculite" will help retain moisture later in the season when the summer temperatures get scorching.

"Having good strong soil is also good for the fight against climate change because a lot of healthy soil absorbs carbon," said McComber.

Compost can be added to the soil you have, or there are commercial soils that have the right pre-mix of nutrients added in, she said.

BLOOMS OR NO BLOOMS?

Most people gravitate to the flats of flowers that have already bloomed, but McComber said petal-less plants might be even better.

"Look for nice healthy plants. People like to get the ones with the flowers right away. I would buy the ones without flowers because you want them to establish good root systems," she said.

And then water them to also "make sure the root system is really moist."

'OLD-SCHOOL FLOWERS'

There are enough flower varieties and shades of colour - not to mention scents - for every taste.

McComber prefers what she calls "old-school flowers," because she thinks they're better pollinators.

"Let me see, I've got hollyhocks and red bee balm. I have a lot of wildflowers, daisies and wild black-eyed Susans. We have Zinnias… nasturtiums are always beautiful, and you can eat the leaves," she said.

McComber also likes sunflowers, which produce seeds you can eat at the end of the season, and calendulas, with yellow and orange flowers.

"It's very attractive to bees, and it's also medicinal. You pick the flower heads, and that's a nice skin salve or lip balm," she said.

SIMPLE PLEASURES

Having a garden - an outdoor oasis and a workshop in one - is therapeutic McComber said.

"You see all these birds and bees flying around, hummingbirds, and I just enjoy watching them. I just sit there with my coffee or tea... and I watch these little guys buzzing around."

"I have several blackberry bushes, and when I come home after work, I fill up my bowl with a cool dessert, blackberries or strawberries," she said.

"It's just nice to be able to take something from your garden and know you grew it."

RAINY WEEKEND GARDENING GUIDANCE

What's a little rain? Gardeners want to garden, and the showers shouldn't stop them, said Joshua Jarry, a horticulture expert at Montreal's Espace pour la vie.

"Your soil should be moist, so if it rains, that's perfect. The thing to watch out for is that your soil is not waterlogged," he advised.

If the soil is too wet or muddy, it can compact too much from the weight of your body or hands as you plant, which reduces space for roots to develop, and can lead to a lack of aeration and root rot, Jarry explained.

BE ATTRACTIVE TO BEES

Generally speaking, plants around your garden with fragrant or showy flowers will attract pollinators, so "you're already winning," Jarry said.

"A flower that is indigenous to Quebec and grows very well and is hearty and produces flowers that bees love…I would say are coneflowers," he said.



Also, don't get rid of those dandelions on your lawn. He describes the dandelion as an "emergency" flower that will attract the bees before other flowers are in bloom.

And the only thing you have to do to make that happen is to take it easy and "not mow your lawn," for a while, said Jarry.

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