Although it’s not the winter season yet, we had our first snowfall here in Northeast Wisconsin. I love how fresh and new a good snowfall always makes everything look. But now I wonder if I’m ever going to get the rest of the Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) leaves spread out over our yard. I’ve found over the years, that the leaves from the three huge maples that line one edge of our driveway do not break down as readily as the native maple leaves do. The Norway Maple leaves tend to smother underlying plant material, so we typically make every attempt to get them broken up and moved around in the fall as much as we can.
One of the things I learned from Heather Holm‘s recent participation in the Fox Cities Book Festival was to leave the flower stems from my prairie plants standing for use by the solitary bees for their nests. What a novel idea! Heather suggested cutting the stems of the prairie plants at about 12 to 15 inches above the ground, anywhere from late May to early June — well after the overwintering insects had left their beds.
Cutting the Stem
Leaving 15 inches of stem sounds like an okay thing to do until you realize the highest most mowers cut is 6 inches. Hm-m. Now what? Heather uses a hand-held cutting implement, perhaps like a really sharp hedge shears or a grass shears to cut the stems of her plants.
That would, however, be a humongous feat with a prairie my size or larger. I do already break off the stems of the taller plants, but I typically leave the shorter plants just as they are unless I’m able to burn a quarter of my prairie in the spring. Looks like I’ll need to be a little extra diligent about breaking over stem tops of all heights.
As I’ve researched this more closely, I’ve learned not all plants work as well for bee nests as some others. Okay, that reduces the amount of cutting and breaking off. The plants that work best have long, linear, strong flower stalks and can be of varying diameters:
- Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
- Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
- Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
- Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
- Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteria)
- Asters (Symphyotrichum spp)
- Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea)
- Cupplant, Rosinweed, Compass Plant, Prairie Dock (Silphium spp)
- Sunflowers (Helianthus spp)
- Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium spp)
- Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
- Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
- Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis)
- Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
- Big Bluestem (Andropogon geradii)
- Raspberry (Rubus spp)
- Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp)
Bees also use the pithy stems of woody plants such as:
- Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)
- Elderberry (Sambucus spp)
- Sumac (Rhus spp)
- Walnut (Juglans spp)
So, don’t be so quick to prune dead branches from trees and shrubs, and leave some piles of twigs and branches in your garden.
You can read about this and other interesting information about bees in Heather’s book Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. It also contains an excellent bee and plant identification guide.
Late summer is a great time to see all the yellow blooming forbs of the prairie. Although this year between the hot humid weather, the bugs and now the rain storms, some of the plants are getting pretty beaten up, I managed to catch a few more good shots. See what you think about these….
See also Yellows of a Late Summer Prairie.
I have many favorite native plants for many reasons, but one of the Ironweed (Vernonia altissima) plants which grows in my wet mesic prairie is a special favorite. Over the years, my Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter has conducted plant rescues in conjunction with the widening of Wisconsin Highway 29. One such dig brought me this Ironweed plant. [Read more…]