Creating habitat for beneficial insects: How are things growing?

Planting of purple, yellow, and white flowers with blue sky in the background
Lots of flowers bloomed in 2019 in our habitat plots. Some we had planted, and some we hadn’t.

Obviously, nothing is growing right now, but I thought this would be a good time to update you on the success of our beneficial insect habitat plots during the 2019 growing season.

When things bloomed

Recall that the goal is to have at least one plant blooming all season long. We choose wildflower species accordingly, and it worked! The following table shows which months each species bloomed in 2019 (at least in the transplanted plots). An ‘X’ means the species was blooming during that month.

Wildflower May June July Aug Sep
Golden alexanders X X
Catmint X X X  X
Lanced-leaved coreopsis X X
Tall white beard tongue X X
Ohio spiderwort X X
Anise hyssop X X  X
Echinacea X X  X
Orange coneflower X X  X
Boneset X X X
Wild bergamot X X
Common milkweed X
NY ironweed X  X
Showy goldenrod  X
New England aster  X
Blue false indigo

You may notice that the blue false indigo never bloomed in 2019, which was disappointing. Most of these plants are still alive (as you’ll see later in this post). They just didn’t bloom. Maybe next year?

Here’s what each species looks like:

Plant with tiny yellow flowers arranged like Queen Anne’s Lace.
Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Small purple bell-shaped flowers on stems with frosty-green leaves
Catmint (Nepeta faassinii)
Yellow daisy-shaped flowers with toothed edges
Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Clusters of white or pink bell-shaped flowers on top of tall stems
Tall white beard tongue (Penstemon digitalis). Obviously not all of these flowers are white!
Three-petaled purple flowers growing on plant with grass-like leaves.
Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
Small, pale purple flowers clustered at the top of a stem
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Pink daisy-shaped flowers with organge centers
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Large clump of daisy shaped flowers with yellow petals and dark brown centers
Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida)
Small white flowers in flat clusters
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Pale pink-purple flowers that look like small tufts on the top of stems
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Pale pink flowers with 5 sets of petals and a complex shape
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Bright magenta flowers formed into small tufts at the top of the plant
NY Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
Large clump of small, bright yellow flowers
Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
Purple daisy-shaped flowers with yellow centers and very narrow petals. A small bee is visiting one of the flowers
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Pale blue-purple legume flowers. One is being visited by a bumble bee
Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis); hasn’t bloomed yet in our field. Photo credit: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

Transplanted wildflowers

The wildflowers in our transplanted plots are surviving pretty well (>80%). In the plots that were transplanted in the fall after the buckwheat cover crop, the survival is a bit lower. I think this has to do with some weed control issues (more on this in a future post).

Percent of plants surviving was lowest in treatment D, but still above 80%. Survival did not change very much from Spring to Fall 2019.
How well have the transplanted wildflowers survived so far? Treatment A was transplanted in Spring 2018 and not mulched. Treatment B was transplanted in Spring 2018 and mulched. Treatment D was transplanted in Fall 2018 following a buckwheat cover crop. All have been hand weeded periodically. In both Spring and Fall of 2019 I counted plants to see how well they survived. The black lines on each bar in the graph show one standard error above and below the mean percent survival.

Some species have survived better than others, as the following chart shows. Again, we counted plants both in Spring and Fall 2019.

Bar graph showing the mean percent of plants of each species that were still alive in Spring and Fall 2019. With the exception of milkweed, all survival rates were at or above 80%, and losses were minimal from Spring to Fall.
Do some species of wildflowers survive better when transplanted? There’s a little bit of variability, but overall most are surviving pretty well.

What about the direct-seeded plots?

Only three species of wildflowers planted by seed in Spring or Fall 2018 bloomed during the 2019 season. The table below shows which months these blooms were seen (marked with an ‘X’).

Common name May June July Aug Sep
Coreopsis X X X
Blackeyed susan X X X
Partridge pea X X

Here’s what the flowers of blackeyed susan look like. The plant has much hairier leaves than the orange coneflower.

A daisy-shaped flower with yellow petals and a dark brown center
Blackeyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

And here’s the partridge pea:

Yellow flower with compound leaves cupped in a person’s hand
Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)

But, I also spotted some wild bergamot, tall white beard tongue, asters, golden alexanders, and either echinacea or orange coneflower seedlings. (I haven’t honed my horticultural skills enough yet to distinguish the foliage of these last two wildflowers.)

Pictures of seedlings labeled (left to right, top to bottom) aster, golden alexanders, echinacea or orange coneflower, wild bergamot, and beard tongue.
Seedlings of some wildflowers could be identified in the direct-seeded plots by September 2019.

There were also plenty of weeds blooming throughout the summer, and many of them were providing pollen and nectar for pollinators and natural enemies. Here are just a few examples:

Four pictures showing a bee on a yellow flower, several daisy-shaped flowers with white petals and yellow centers, a yellow dandelion with a pink lady beetle on it, and a bumble bee visiting a pink clover flower
From left to right: A bee feeding on a weed in the aster family, blooming chamomile, a lady beetle on a dandelion, and a bumble bee visiting clover (that wasn’t planted).

This table summarizes when during the season different weeds were in bloom. Again, an ‘X’ indicates the weed was blooming that month.

Weed May June July Aug Sep
Campion X X X X X
Chamomile X X X X X
Clover X X X X X
Dandelion X X X X X
Vetch X X X X X
Viola X X X X X
Mustard X X X X
Deadnettle X X
Baby blue eyes X
Henbit X
Asters X X X X
Buckwheat X X X X
Oxalis X X X X
Plantain X X X X
Wild lettuce X X X X
Cinquefoil X X X
Indian hemp X X X
Redshank X X X
Chickweed X X
Galinsoga X X
Geraniums X
Sandwort X
Grass X X
Horse weed X X
Lambsquarters X X
Ragweed X X
Black bindweed X
Chicory X

There’s more!

In addition to keeping track of what bloomed from May through September, we were also still tracking costs and time spent on each plot in 2019. And of course we collected a LOT of insects. But those stories will have to wait for another post.

This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.