Greenhouse Update-Growing for Wildlife
Working in the greenhouse, growing native Minnesota plants is a pleasure in so many ways, as well as a great learning experience. I feel so fortunate to spend time in the greenhouse each season, especially late summer evenings when all is quiet and the butterflies and bees happily go about their business. I love how much we interact with nature while growing our plants.
This spring I found a number of pots with the plants uprooted, lying on the floor, and with soil spilled out on the ground. Upon closer inspection I was startled to find a big American toad with a little soil covering his head, trying to hide in a pot not much bigger than he was. I had to laugh but was a little bugged by the ruined plant. After taking the first few toads outside, now I’ve been leaving them alone since they eat insects, grubs, slugs and snails among other things. We figure we can afford to let a few plants get unearthed here and there for the slug and insect control the toads provide us.
Later in the summer I need to keep watch for Monarch caterpillars. They can wipe us out of Swamp milkweed pretty quickly if I’m not on my toes. Carefully, I collect them and re-home them to larger milkweed plants outside in the garden or the nearby prairie.
Because the native plants draw in so many butterflies, hummingbirds and dragonflies, I sometimes need to rescue them when they can’t find their way back out. They panic and bang themselves against the side of the greenhouse and it’s hard to watch. It’s always a feel good moment when we can guide them back outside.
One thing that has been made very clear to me while working in the greenhouse is the need for diversity. That’s something I’ve heard for years, but now I see in real time, season to season, why we need to keep a variety of plants in our landscape. Each year we grow a wide selection of plants, about 100 species in all, and each year we see in our controlled greenhouse conditions that plants have good years and bad years.
For the first several years I decided that there were some plants you could just always count on to grow big and robust quickly. But then, after I had been at it several years, a season would come along when a certain plant I thought was always solid, struggled. I always want to know why, but mostly it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening. I do know that some years are cooler, some are hotter. Some have more or less sunshine. It may come down to our watering cycles or the soil we’ve used, possibly the seed collected the year before was less viable, but mostly it points out to me that if we only have a couple species in our landscape and this happens to be a year that one or more of those few plants isn’t growing vigorously, then what will the wildlife do? What will the butterflies, bees, and birds eat? What flowers will we have to enjoy? If we have a wide variety, then another species that loves this year’s conditions steps up and fills in the gap keeping the plantings in balance. That’s why when we do your restoration or when we help you choose plants for your plantings, we recommend a wide selection of species so year in and year out, you will have robust plants that can serve many purposes.
Working in the greenhouse is both enjoyable and educational, but of course it’s not all rescues and talking to toads, we work hard, get dirty and sweaty, our backs ache and we love most every minute of it. Especially when we can see our native plants blooming and thriving in one of our restoration projects or someone’s garden.
We have an abundance of beautiful natives at our retail nursery this year. Our plant list is on our website and our retail greenhouse will be open this week Wednesday to Saturday: June 26 – 29, 10 am – 4 pm each day. This is our last 4-day sale of the season. So stop in and see what we have for you. (Hopefully there won’t be a toad in it. )