Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

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InvestingGeek
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Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by InvestingGeek »

I know there are lots of BHs here who are passionate and knowledgeable about gardening so I'm hoping for some good advice.

We are planning to renovate the backyard. It's an unplanned patch of grass with trees around it. We want to add a playset, a vegetable garden and maybe a patio and spruce things up in general. Contingent on yard size and cost of course.

While researching landscaping ideas, I discovered that the ubiquitous manicured green lawn is actually a pretty barren landscape from nature's pov and a desert for critters and particularly pollinators.

That got me thinking that I want a part of the lawn to be grass for kids to play on but I'd love to make a part of it a pollinator paradise for the bees, butterflies, maybe even frogs and other threatened creatures to thrive in. Ideally with native plants. Eyes bigger than tummy probably but hey I can dream.

But I have a ton of questions:
1. Are there people here who have done this? And what's been your experience with it?
2. Would I have problems with a veggie garden and pollinator garden/meadow near each other?
3. Any problems I'd have with a pollinator garden in the yard? Like bees flying all over the yard?
4. Any issues with native plants? If I have them alongside imported varieties, would they be able to hold their own? This is probably plant specific?
5. Anything else I'm not considering?

Thanks,
InvestingGeek
livesoft
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by livesoft »

We have lots and lots of flowers, trees, and some grass. Some of the plants produce things to eat.

The reality is that for a vegetable garden, one needs pretty much full sun while for a pleasant backyard experience one really would like lots of shade. Plants generally do not flower in the shade or at least without lots of sun to trigger that activity ... except for maybe impatiens.

Our lawn is full of spiders and things that they eat and things that eat them. One can see their eyes reflecting back at one at night if one shines an LED flashlight or headlamp out there.

We are required to have more than half the plantings be native plants. They do fine. Of course, non-native species do well, too. Local nurseries will have native plants varieties for your particular area. They will be the same species as what one finds out in the wilderness or seashore or prairie, but they will have been bred to have more flowers, be bushier, survive with less water, etc.

Finally, one's property has little microcosms of very very local environments. The place where our prickly pear cactus blooms profusely would not work for the place where ferns are growing and vice versa.

Your immediate neighbors and folks who live close by are going to be better at suggesting plantings than random people from all over the US and the world found at bogleheads.org.
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Elsebet
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Elsebet »

I plan to have an edible/pollinator intensive landscape when I buy a property in my new state.

Here is a good article from WSU on the subject: https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/pollinat ... den-series
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sjt
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by sjt »

My yard is not really ripe for a lawn due to lots of tree shade, and me not being interested into pumping time / money / chemicals into it just so I can pump more time into mowing it. Many homes in this neighborhood (a "tree protected" community) have natural / unkept yards which have a lot of leaves and small weeds. it's like driving through a forest and one of the main appeals of this house for us. And neighbors aren't preoccupied waging lawn wars.

Anyway, back to your question - I've been researching about planting native plants in the flower beds. Proponents of native landscapes aren't totally against grass turf, but do advocate that some of the landscape be used for native plants. I'm sure there is a university extension in your area that will enable you to search for native plants and flowers. I have found many shade / partial sun wildflowers native to this area that I plan to introduce next year. Eastern columbine, crested iris, green & gold (groundcover), wood sorrel, asters are flowering species native to this area and should grow without much care. Should be able to grow along non native species as long as they aren't invasive / require much different water / soil / sun.
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tedgeorge
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by tedgeorge »

The local garden centers normally have people who will come out and do an assessment. They may do it for free or they may charge you to actually write down the rapid fire scientific names that will come from their talking.

I've found NextDoor to be a wealth of local information as well. People are always asking for help identifying different things and there are always a ton of responses.

If you are the type of person who will want a mosquito treatment, that may impact your pollinator garden significantly.
Mr. Rumples
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Mr. Rumples »

I did something similar when I bought my property a few years ago. It was part of a long neglected farm which had been broken up into lots from .5 to 3 acres. It was a tobacco farm and tobacco strips the soil of almost everything, so I was starting almost from scratch. I have a small lawn area (I don't care what is growing as long as its green) and the rest are gardens.

A vegetable garden will be fine near a pollinator garden / meadow. Yes, you will have bees and wasps and other flying insects. In my experience, if you ignore them and if needed back off, they are too busy to care about you. The only exception are yellow jackets and hornets, but their presence will not be determined by this. Just learn to recognize them.

Native plants will do best. You can easily do this with native shrubs and perennials which will keep work down. A true meadow is a lot of work to get going and where I live, is a haven for ticks, thus I decided to mow my back field rather than have it meadow like.

Get a soil test from your extension service. You need to know not only the PH but what else is going on in the soil. Its worth it. You can throw all the fertilizer you want into the yard/garden but if the PH is off and if there is no calcium, its money thrown away.

Take it slow. Gardens evolve as you learn more about your skills and your local conditions. Be sure you know what poison ivy looks like. If you have it, you can get rid of it, but you need to know what to look for.
Carson
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Carson »

We live in the city and replaced our traditional front grass lawn with a layout of native plants, things from low to high to provide interest. It's nice and pollinators seem to love, love it. The whole growing season, there's some iiteration of flowers for the bees to rely on. Only thing is it is not maintenance free - since we don't mow it, there are weeds that crop up, and some are stubborn. The other thing is that some of these native plants are really thriving and as such, seed themselves out. Which is great because they naturally replace themselves, but there is literally a case where i planted 5 plants and now have hundreds. So just beware it's not maintenance free.
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Texanbybirth
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Texanbybirth »

InvestingGeek wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 7:26 am
1. Are there people here who have done this? And what's been your experience with it?
2. Would I have problems with a veggie garden and pollinator garden/meadow near each other?
3. Any problems I'd have with a pollinator garden in the yard? Like bees flying all over the yard?
4. Any issues with native plants? If I have them alongside imported varieties, would they be able to hold their own? This is probably plant specific?
5. Anything else I'm not considering?

Thanks,
InvestingGeek
1. Of course people have done it before you! It's great. Our kids (5,3,1, and "still cooking") love the insects and critters (frogs and bunnies). Wasps are annoying (especially when they build their nests on our back patio and I do kill those), but the bees and butterflies and other insects are worth it. We live 6 houses down from the city's second largest park/nature preserve with a playground for the kiddos on our street, so we don't care about having much in the way of places for them to play in the backyard. We do have a beautiful large tree in the front that gives plenty of shade and climbing and has a swing. The kids are free to roam the block for "grass" to play in, but they generally prefer the park and playground and trees and creek. (This is 9500 ft^2 suburban lot, not some acreage or anything.)
2. We have a motto in our house: "life wants to live." Thus, things get jumbled together unless you're really diligent about separating. Currently have a very..."fruitful" tomato plant that is competing with some rose bushes. Who will win? Who knows?!
3. Yes, bees are everywhere. They almost never even notice us, and not one of us has been stung in 5 years. Okay I probably have, but it doesn't bother me. I want to start keeping bees, but it'll be a while till my wife is on board. (Probably when we stop having babies since she doesn't want to risk an allergic reaction while pregnant.) :)
4. & 5. That is a great question for your local nursery and Ag Extension.

Hope you enjoy your experience! :beer
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HomeStretch
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by HomeStretch »

We did extensive renovations to our backyard and love the result. We had a lot of help and also did/do a lot ourselves. We are outside every day enjoying it.

Lots of good advice above. My 2 cents:

1. How big is your yard? Prioritize so you get what you want without cramming too much in. Leave room for the kids to play baseball, soccer, etc.

2. Before you sink a shovel in the ground... Work with a landscape designer even if you have to pay for the service. Have a plan even if you don’t do it all at once. Have an idea of what you want and pictures to show the designer.

3. Be realistic about your budget. It’s not cheap to renovate your yard.

4. Be very realistic about the time you want to spend on maintaining the yard. There is no such thing as “no maintenance”.

5. Get the patio and playscape sites set first. Consider whether you want outdoor lighting, music, irrigation, and/or fencing. Do you want a grill or fire pit by the patio with a propane or gas line? How about a few electrical outlets or hose bibs? Plan the gardens around that paying attention to the amount of sun, etc. areas receive so you don’t put the vegetable garden in shade for example. Get your trees trimmed up too if they need it especially if they are near the playscape.

6. Don’t put the butterfly/pollinator gardens right next to the playscape. One butterfly bush alone can be covered with bees. You don’t want anyone falling into it when they shoot off the slide.

7. See what grows well at the neighbors. Maybe other gardeners will share plants with you. I am always giving out plants to friends.

8. Any pests like deer, rabbits, ground hogs, etc.? You can co-exist with a bit of critter spray and good plant choices. You might have to put some low fencing around your vegetable garden. For example, don’t plant hostas and daylilies if you have a lot of deer.

9. Engage your kids in the process and planting. Kids love butterflies, hummingbirds / birds (add a bird bath and feeders, get binoculars), water features, picking a fresh strawberry, cherry tomato or daisy. Plant some fun stuff every year like peanuts (if no allergies) or mini pumpkins for the kids to try.

Yes, I am passionate about outdoor spaces! :D
Best of luck with your project!
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Flobes »

InvestingGeek wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 7:26 am That got me thinking that I want a part of the lawn to be grass for kids to play on but I'd love to make a part of it a pollinator paradise for the bees, butterflies, maybe even frogs and other threatened creatures to thrive in. Ideally with native plants.

1. Are there people here who have done this? And what's been your experience with it?
2. Would I have problems with a veggie garden and pollinator garden/meadow near each other?
3. Any problems I'd have with a pollinator garden in the yard? Like bees flying all over the yard?
4. Any issues with native plants? If I have them alongside imported varieties, would they be able to hold their own? This is probably plant specific?
5. Anything else I'm not considering?
I have a pollinator paradise in the sunshine backyard. It's a mix of perennials, bulbs, shrubs.

From when the snow starts melting to when it starts to fall, it is like constant fireworks: somethings are always shooting up, others dying down. This week, starring roles go to peonies and lupines, as irises and alliums fade.

Some native, some not. Much from seed. Hundred of bulbs. Purchased specimens from local nurseries; some by mail order. When I first started, I asked that all gifts be something for the yard; years later it's nice to remember that's the Tom spirea and those are the Anne lilies. I posted on "neighbor" boards that my yard would accept all plant gifts as people culled and divided their own overgrowths: got iris and daylily and many perennials. (Now I am a donor, not a recipient!)

Across a cedar mulched path, veggie beds are a mix of raised beds and surface beds. Simpatico w/wildness flowerings. Some veggies welcome/need the pollinators. I actually companion plant particular flowers with particular veggies. Two beds, asparagus and herbs, are "permanent" meaning they come back year after year all by themselves. I also use many fabric grow bags, as they are easy to move (like late or early frosts) and even easier to store; their impermanence is a feature too.

Yard is ringed by trees: mighty spruce, cottonwoods, aspens, fruits, honey locusts, ornamentals.

In near total shade, two hosta gardens; one with bark mulch, one with flowering vinca ground cover.

There's always a spot to sit in the shade; three distinct "people" areas.

Evolved over many years. No real plan, no guidance, no specialist.

Pollinators are generally not aggressive. They do not bother; they do not want to be bothered. Of course, here's the rise of the new killer bees...

I do keep the wasps away from some places where I do not want them. Hanging Wasp Decoy Nests types of things. Amazingly these work!

Some years, pollinators invade roofline eaves and attic. But my neighbors without flowers also have this problem.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are extraordinary!

What plants will thrive depends on climate where you are, amount of sunshine, water, and luck. Monitor what's invasive, and be mindful of where you plant those.

How much water you need depends on what you plant. Conversely, how much water you have may determine what you plant.

My sprinkler system has five zones, with a variety of fittings, all set differently. One zone is drip irrigation.

Countless insects and several beneficial snakes are permanent residents. Birds, from small (hummingbirds and finches) to large (eagles). Backyard has been visited by fox, mink, raccoon, deer, bobcat, bear.

Front yard is lawn, mowed by HOA. No lawn at all in the back. Happy was the day I gave away my lawnmower.
Last edited by Flobes on Wed Jun 10, 2020 3:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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InvestingGeek
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by InvestingGeek »

Lots of great input and food for thought. There's a lot to digest here. Thanks, all!
sjt
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by sjt »

As a follow up, here are a couple links where you can filter plants for your area specifically. Start with your state, then filter by plant height, type (flower, grass, fern, shrub), sun requirements, water requirements, bloom color, etc:

https://plants.usda.gov/checklist.html

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Nestegg_User »

surprised that no one mentioned finding a local master gardener.... they can help with info on what native plants need (soil, sun, water level, etc) and how they might further propagate (whether that's important to you) as well as non-native and invasive species. The local extension office can probably help you find one. The extension office might also help identify shrubs and plants (some that you might find outcompetes the local native plants, so you might find that they need to be replaced) and help you find sources of the native species (not always easy).
retiredjg
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by retiredjg »

InvestingGeek wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 7:26 am 1. Are there people here who have done this? And what's been your experience with it?
I'm doing a little. It's slow but rewarding if given enough time. You'll have some nice blooms in year 1 but year 2 or 3 may seem sparse. It's just the plants getting established, most of which is happening underground.

2. Would I have problems with a veggie garden and pollinator garden/meadow near each other?
Not a problem at all. You can even mix it if you want.

3. Any problems I'd have with a pollinator garden in the yard? Like bees flying all over the yard?
Someone with a bee allergy may want to stay away from the plants. But mostly, they are not interested in humans at all and will ignore them unless you accidentally grab one.

4. Any issues with native plants? If I have them alongside imported varieties, would they be able to hold their own? This is probably plant specific?
Natives and non-natives can co-exist quite nicely. There is no problem unless you have planted an invasive non-native in which case it won't matter what you plant next to it. :happy

5. Anything else I'm not considering?
Don't be disappointed that this is not a fast process.

Find a native plant source (nursery, farmer's market, internet). Don't plant just 2 or 3 of most things. Plant 5 - 10 of them for a nice display.
For plants that spread quickly, planting 2 or 3 works fine.

Do look for information from your local county extension agent/master gardener group.
livesoft
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by livesoft »

Nestegg_User wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 12:24 pm surprised that no one mentioned finding a local master gardener.... they can help with info on what native plants need (soil, sun, water level, etc) and how they might further propagate (whether that's important to you) as well as non-native and invasive species.
I didn't mention them because they are more opinionated than looking things up on the internet. They can steer you away from some great things just because they are so opinionated. However, if one talked to 3 to 6 of them, they might, maybe, perhaps reach a consensus.
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HomeStretch
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by HomeStretch »

If you don’t have convenient backyard access to your garage or cellar, consider a shed for easy access to outdoor stuff. Kids toys, pool toys/equipment, gardening tools, etc.

Include a line item in your budget for outdoor seating/table/umbrella if you add a patio.

Consider a high electrical outlet for string lights over the patio at night or for parties. Pretty effect.
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Grasshopper »

If you lived in Phoenix I would say go to The Desert Botanical Garden they have different gardens with different ideas. When I lived in Phoenix I volunteered my time there as a docent and Master Gardener in a "Ask the Gardener program".
Mr. Rumples
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Mr. Rumples »

In addition to master gardeners, check out your local garden clubs. Also, many states have master naturalists. They are different than master gardeners.

I had never heard of them until I was exploring replacing a field with a meadow. They were the ones I spoke with about it.

http://www.virginiamasternaturalist.org
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by Mr. Rumples »

Grasshopper wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 1:34 pm If you lived in Phoenix I would say go to The Desert Botanical Garden they have different gardens with different ideas. When I lived in Phoenix I volunteered my time there as a docent and Master Gardener in a "Ask the Gardener program".
Got glimpses of the Desert Botanical Garden on TV. Fantastic from what I could see.
likegarden
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by likegarden »

Having mainly lawn is boring. I like a variety of perennials, conifers and Rhododendrons in addition to lawn. Be aware that in many parts of the country the Lime disease is spreading. I was bit by an insect and decided to have all of my property sprayed against those insects every 2 months over spring to fall.
I also have a lot of hostas, some of which I pollinate between interesting cultivars myself to develop new hybrids.
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by celia »

A pollinator garden is great, but don't stop there. Learn how each plant interacts with insects and how they both interact with birds and mammals. Even microbes in the soil are important and each of these help the environment. The best book that ties all of this together is Bringing Nature Home by Tallamy. (This link is not to the latest version.) His website is http://www.bringingnaturehome.net/ .

If you are interested in attracting birds, you first need to know what birds live in your area and how to attract them to your yard. Many books are written on attracting birds, but I've found they are not birds that come anywhere near where I live. Instead, audubon.org has a tool where you can put in your zip code to find birds for your area and what they are attracted to. (Currently, it is found under:
Birds > Plants for Birds and you don't have to enter your email address unless you want the search results sent to you.)

I started drought-tolerant gardening 8 years ago during drought years (with a financial incentive from our water department). Many, but not all of my plants were California natives. I made a lot of mistakes and I'm about ready to start over, now that I know more. So you can learn what to avoid, here are my biggest errors:

* Plan around your soil type and weather (snow, rain, dry) and sun/shade pattern. I planted drought-tolerant plants and put them on a drip system all around my existing Jacaranda trees which need much more water. The trees are not doing well as a result and their roots have migrated towards the surface, lifting up our 8-yo paver system walkways thru the garden. The pathway is now a trip hazard and now needs to be redone, just because I put drought-tolerant plants with trees that are water-thirsty (for my local climate).

* Plan to re-mulch as needed every year or two. We mulched with free city-cut mulch (from tree pruning projects) 8 years ago but never got around to adding to it. So, weeds have taken over for now.

* Plan around/fix the drainage from your roof when it rains. Where does the water go? Does it cause weeds to grow there or kill a drought-tolerant plant that is in the drainage path?

* Consider having a compost pile if your jurisdiction allows it. I am an avid mulcher and throw all the fruit and veggie scraps in a bowl on my kitchen counter that goes out to the yard every other day. After it ages, it is good to add to the vegetable garden, especially before seeds are planted.

In our area, the local nurseries are next to useless for obtaining native plants. They carry tons of "foreign plants" that didn't originate in our area. But, with a little research, I've found 3 native-only nurseries that grow just what I like. The plants there are labeled with their soil, water, and sun requirements and the expected size of the mature plant. The employees there are also knowledgeable and can answer your questions. The worst place to buy plants according to a horticulture teacher I had was the home improvement stores. Too many people get their cheap plants there and then neighborhoods start to look all the same.
Last edited by celia on Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
livesoft
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by livesoft »

celia wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:07 pm.... The employees there are also knowledgeable and can answer your questions. The worst place to buy plants according to a horticulture teacher I had was the home improvement stores.
Surprising perhaps, but our local Lowe's had a pretty sharp head of the garden section. Years ago, I was looking for a very specific variety of azaleas that I could only find online. I called the Lowe's garden center and talked to the head and she took my request and called me back with exactly what I wanted at half the price of anywhere else. I suspect that many horticulture graduates end up working at these garden centers at some point in their lives. And those azaleas get compliments now from all the neighbors now that they are well-established.
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celia
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by celia »

livesoft wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:16 pm
celia wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:07 pm.... The employees there are also knowledgeable and can answer your questions. The worst place to buy plants according to a horticulture teacher I had was the home improvement stores.
Surprising perhaps, but our local Lowe's had a pretty sharp head of the garden section. Years ago, I was looking for a very specific variety of azaleas that I could only find online. I called the Lowe's garden center and talked to the head and she took my request and called me back with exactly what I wanted at half the price of anywhere else. I suspect that many horticulture graduates end up working at these garden centers at some point in their lives. And those azaleas get compliments now from all the neighbors now that they are well-established.
You made my point because you bought something that was special-ordered. Your neighbors likely bought the store stock.

I've been looking for some hard-to-find plants, even by calling places on the other side of the country. But neither my closest nursery, HD, or Lowes can find them to order them for me. But now one of my native plant nurseries has 2 of the plants I am looking for (in the size I want).

But before I start over, I want to update my current allergy info. For those who need to know how allergenic a particular plant is, see The Allergy-Fighting Garden by Ogren. The author rated all the plants he has seen with a number from 1 to 10, showing the commonly allergenic plants to avoid, especially in public places and around schools.
Last edited by celia on Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
livesoft
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

Post by livesoft »

celia wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:26 pmI've been looking for some hard-to-find plants, even by calling places on the other side of the country. But neither my closest nursery, HD, or Lowes can find them to order them for me.
I am fortunate that my county has several wholesale nurseries and better yet: One of my neighbor owns/runs one of them. Perhaps the nearby wholesalers make it easy for the local big box stores to get plants on special order.
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celia
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Re: Backyard renovation: lawn vs pollinator garden

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livesoft wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:33 pm
celia wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:26 pmI've been looking for some hard-to-find plants, even by calling places on the other side of the country. But neither my closest nursery, HD, or Lowes can find them to order them for me.
I am fortunate that my county has several wholesale nurseries and better yet: One of my neighbor owns/runs one of them. Perhaps the nearby wholesalers make it easy for the local big box stores to get plants on special order.
My generic local nursery says they have no say in what is delivered by the huge plant wholesaler they use other than if they are filling a special order. I suppose the local nurseries (especially chain stores) can't contract with the native plant wholesalers for regular deliveries since the wholesalers wouldn't be able to meet the demand (at least at this point in time).
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