Congratulations! You're holding a tiny bit of habitat in your hands, just bursting with the potential to support bees, butterflies, birds, and breathtaking beauty.
About the Plants
We picked these plant species specifically for northwest lower Michigan. They're beautiful, hardy, and native! Plus, by planting these vigorous natives instead of using invasive ornamentals, you're protecting existing habitats in natural areas all around the region. Please note that these native plants often take a year (or even two) before they start blooming; be patient!
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is also known by names like bee balm and monarda. It is a medium-height, hardy, easy-to-grow plant that prefers sun, but can handle a bit of shade. It positively thrives in the sandy soils northwest lower Michigan is known for, but can shine in a rain garden too. Pale purple flowers start in midsummer and last until fall, and support lots of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. Deer and other herbivores usually avoid eating bergamot, but several caterpillars need it as a host. This plant tends to self-seed, helping to fill in bare areas, and will be the first to sprout. It may even bloom in the first year! Photo by R. Koteskey More information
Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) likes a little more shade and moisture than bergamot, and takes about a year to mature and flower, but it's worth the wait! Its unique red and yellow blooms last all summer (especially when trimmed back), attracting hummingbirds and many other pollinators. Once established, columbine will self-seed to make new plants, or you can collect the shiny black seeds and scatter them in new places. This hardy plant also supports the caterpillars and other insects that songbirds need to feed their nestlings. The unique, delicate leaves make a pretty mound when the plant isn't flowering; deer and rabbits don't often enjoy eating it. Photo by William Cullina More information
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is truly our most common milkweed, but its populations have decreased since WWII, when it was so common, the seed fluff was used to make life preservers! Today, we think about it preserving life too--but most of the time we're thinking about it hosting monarch butterfly caterpillars. Unpalatable to most other herbivores, milkweed supports many pollinators, especially butterflies and bees, with its fragrant midsummer flowers. The plant is hardy and vigorous, growing in wet and dry areas alike, so long as it has lots of bright sunshine. Photo by K. Grzesiak More information
How to Plant
First, choose your site. We picked plants that grow best in sun to part-shade, so the spot should get sunshine for at least half the day. These plants are colonizers, so make sure there's bare dirt for them to put their roots down in. Depending on how cozy you want it, this garden can be anywhere from 2 x 5 feet (you'll want to dig some plants up to share with friends!) to 10 x 10 feet. Just about any soil will be suitable for these hardy native plants. Next, plant your seeds. It's best to plant in spring (April or May) or fall (September-November) rather than midsummer. Make sure you've removed any straggling weeds, and wet the soil a little. Then, sprinkle your seeds (aka habitat starters) over the whole area. Be careful! Some of the seeds are tiny; you want an even spread, not a pile of seeds all in one spot. Top the seeds with a bit of dirt and maybe some compost or mulch to help keep them safe from the critters that might want to munch on them. Now, nurture the habitat. In the first year especially, give your seeds and sprouts a drink of water when the soil is getting dry, and pull up any grass or dandelions that crop up. Watch for seedlings! Bergamot especially can sprout very quickly. If you plant your seeds in fall, cover with leaves to keep them safe over the winter. Finally, enjoy the habitat! As the plants get bigger, there will be more and more visitors to explore. Native bees come in many shapes and sizes, and get very busy on warm summer days! Songbird parents will visit the plants to find caterpillars for their babies. Hummingbirds and butterflies will come to nectar. Because these plants self-seed, in a few years you'll have extra plants; dig them up in early spring or late fall and move them to other garden beds, or give them to friends! No garden? No problem! These plants can be grown in pots as well--just don't plant too many! 3 or 4 seeds per 6" pot is enough. They can be overwintered in a garage or cuddled up next to the side of a building.
Want More Native Plants?
These are just three of the thousands of plant species native to northwest lower Michigan. Use more of them in your garden to see (and support) even more of the wildlife that makes this area so special!
By donating to the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network, you are supporting environmental stewardship in your community and taking an active role in protecting habitat in northwest lower Michigan.