Creating a patchwork of pollinator plots

female monarch butterfly

A female monarch butterfly nectars on flowers after eclosing, or hatching, in a community garden. Providing flowering plants that grow throughout the season is key to attracting a variety of pollinators to any garden. Credit: Akimi King/USFWS

By Susan Sawyer
June 25, 2020

Scattered in and around the city of Klamath Falls, Oregon – population about 22,000 – is a patchwork of nearly 40 open spaces that maintain a valuable connection between local residents and the natural world.

green plants in a wooden box.

The Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office maintains a raised bed garden spot in several of the community gardens. Rather than food for people, the staff plants native flowering species such as milkweed to attract monarch butterflies. Credit: Akimi King/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office has led the effort in creating these nature-scape sites with the help of many dedicated community partners.

Working together with schools, museums, private landowners, local governments, youth and garden clubs, the Klamath Office has transformed empty, neglected and underutilized spaces into productive landscapes that provide rest-stops for pollinator species and in many cases, grow food for people.

Nicole Sanchez, horticulture professor at Oregon State University, emphasized the importance of providing ground space for nesting native bees as well as a variety of blooming plants for pollinators, including fruits and vegetables.

“Many of our native pollinators don’t travel long distances from nest to food like honeybees do,” said Sanchez. “Providing habitat and food plants right in these garden spaces supports the numerous native bees that also contribute to pollinating the foods we grow and eat.”

These open spaces range in size from a four-foot square box made of repurposed pallets to an entire city lot. In addition to providing pollinator habitat, the spaces also offer conservation-learning opportunities for students, scouts and neighbors.

a woman digging in the dirt.

A student weeds her vegetable plot in a community garden site. Fruits and vegetables along with native flowering plants are important to attract a variety of pollinators throughout the growing season. Photo courtesy of Chris Price/University of California Ag and Natural Resources

“More than half the planted spaces are on public and private school grounds where students can learn about pollinator habitats while growing native plants,” said Akimi King, fish and wildlife biologist with the Service. “The students manage the sites while learning about natural ecosystems as they collect and share valuable data.”

a sign in front of some circled rocks and trees in the distance.

Community gardens can grow wherever there is space, water, light and someone to maintain the site. This small area is in a community-owned park, where neighbors provide care and monitoring of the plants. Credit: Susan Sawyer/USFWS

For several years, the Service has supported efforts nationwide to create pollinator-friendly habitats in urban areas through an innovative community-centered model in and near cities where 80% of Americans reside.

“I began coordinating the Schoolyard Habitat program here about 10 years ago, and as the student project sites were taking shape, people noticed. I started getting calls about helping with other spaces around town,” said King. “It didn’t take long before we had projects going at a dog park, the women’s shelter, in road medians, around libraries and in community parks. Word of mouth is pretty powerful.”

While the school sites had a built-in workforce, it was more of a challenge to ensure continued interest and maintenance of the non-school spaces. Many of these sites were established as community gardens, where neighbors rent a plot to grow just about anything they like. Most raise seasonal produce, but many include native plants in their garden design since Sanchez stresses the importance of providing for pollinators at each location.

three people digging in a raised flower bed.

The Yreka fish and wildlife office helped design and install the Children’s Garden for the local community. Pictured here, is a spot used for community education programs. Credit: Jen Jones/USFWS

“Having an array of blooming plants all season long is as important as having a variety of flower shapes and types,” said Sanchez. “Not every species of pollinator visits every kind of flower. A variety of flowers, blooming in sequence over the course of the season, supports the greatest number of species.”

King gives credit for the project success to the many volunteers and students for creating these functional spaces and the mentors who helped educate others about environmental stewardship and conservation.

“There was a need in our local community for these spaces,” said King. “They provide an opportunity for residents and students to get outdoors and work together to create something positive for each other as well as for the pollinators.”

For more information on how you can help pollinators in the community and your own backyard, check out this free downloadable guide from Oregon State University. The guide offers detailed plant lists, garden designs and advice on creating pollinator habitat, including how to keep plants healthy without exposing pollinating insects to toxic pesticides.


Story Photo

Susan Sawyer

About the writer...

Susan Sawyer is the Klamath Basin public affairs officer, covering the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Klamath Falls and Yreka Fish and Wildlife Offices. She was raised in the California desert gaining a deep appreciation of the outdoors on family vacations to the Pacific coast, Sierras and Redwood forests.

She has worked in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Idaho and now Oregon, where she spends her free time landscaping for wildlife, continuing to learn from and about nature and spoiling her animals.

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