The Native Pollinator Garden

TJMS has had a native pollinator garden since 2015, but in spring 2018 Ms. Bell’s Science Yellow Jacket Period enrichment class put together a plan to rehabilitate the garden, which had become overrun with invasive species. You can read about our efforts in “real time” on our Facebook Page posts.

Original Pollinator Garden, circa 2015

April 2015, beginning the pollinator garden
April 2015, beginning the pollinator garden
Adding the fence, June 2015
June 2015, adding the fence
The Bug Hotel
The Bug Hotel

Winter 2017: Planning Ahead

It's too cold for working in the garden this week, but we had a great meeting with the Science teachers on Friday. Stay…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Saturday, January 6, 2018

Phase I: Inventory the Sanctuary Species

One goal for the YJP students was to get the school yard recognized as a wildlife habitat. Their first step was to investigate which recognized Audubon “Sanctuary Species” were already in the garden. They easily found more than the ten required species and sent off a request for a site visit. They also certified the schoolyard as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. (Interested in becoming an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary at your school or home? Here’s how.)

Phase II: Clear Invasive Species

The second phase, beginning in late May 2018, was to clear invasive species from the existing site.

There’s nothing like a little dirt in the morning! Today the Yellow Jacket Pollinator Garden class started weeding out…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A lot of digging and mulching by the Yellow Jacket group working on getting the schoolyard certified as a wildlife…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Wednesday, June 6, 2018

We eventually dug the sod and invasive species out by hand in about 50% of our 40’x20′ pollinator garden, and tilled the remainder. That’s a lot of student and volunteer hours!

Students and volunteers worked as quickly as possible, trying to finish up the garden preparation before the end of school so we could plant the natives that had been donated to the school garden, but we ran out of time. So over the summer, we moved on to Phase III.

Phase III: Invasive-proof the Garden. AKA: Solarization vs. Occultation– which will be most effective?

Since we didn’t manage to get our native plants into the pollinator garden before school let out in June, we put them in a holding space in the school’s AFAC garden, which is adjacent to the pollinator garden to keep them happy until fall. Then we decided to take advantage of the hot summer weather to help invasive-proof the garden. We had learned the hard way in our AFAC garden that tilling a garden is good at knocking back unwanted plants, but grass and other weeds pop right back up within days or weeks. After all the hard work the students put in clearing the garden of invasive species, we wanted to be really sure the natives would be able to establish without competition once they were planted.

First, we researched. Our garden advisors were divided: which would be better, black plastic or clear plastic? Clear plastic “cooks” the roots and seeds of the weeds, and black plastic blocks out the sun. But which would work best for us? We found research indicating that black plastic hits the ground running (so to speak!) with good results, but that clear plastic was a clear winner over the long term. Since this is a learning garden, we decided to experiment ourselves, and purchased an equal amount of clear and black plastic to cover the garden over the summer.

Second, we tilled. We tilled the half we’d already dug out and mulched by hand, as well as the rest of the pollinator garden which we’d mowed and cleared with a hoe.

July 2018, tilling the cleared pollinator garden
July 2018, tilling the cleared pollinator garden

Third, we put down the clear and black plastic right after tilling. (It took TWO rounds of tilling, because the grass kept coming back before the plastic arrived by mail order.)

Fourth, we waited. After we put down the clear plastic, black plastic, and a control area with no plastic, we monitored the garden over the summer. The weather varied from extremely wet to very hot. Wet weather is good for solarization, because the water is necessary to “cook” the weeds once it gets hot again. Or at least, that’s the theory. Here’s what we really discovered:

Early August 2018, the control area, which had been manually dug out but left uncovered.
Early August 2018, the control area, which had been manually dug out but left uncovered.
Early August 2018, the area covered by black plastic was muddy but plant-free
Early August 2018, the area covered by black plastic was muddy but plant-free
Early August 2018, the clear plastic was bursting at the seams with grass. Apparently, we created the perfect grass greenhouse with our clear plastic!
Early August 2018, the clear plastic was bursting at the seams with grass. Apparently, we created the perfect grass greenhouse with our clear plastic!

It was really tempting to pull up the clear plastic and dig it out so that the space would be ready for the students to plant in September. But we remembered that solarization takes several months to take effect, not just the 6 weeks we’d tried it– and that this science experiment only has learning value if it’s there for the students when they get back into the garden in September! So we gritted our teeth and left the clear plastic installed.

Phase IV: Planning Our Plantings

Now for the fun part! We spent all the rainy summer days researching native pollinator gardens.

We read a lot:

It's a rainy old day, so it's a good day to look through native plant lists to plan the pollinator garden grant we're applying for. What are you doing this gray rainy day?

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We have prepared ground. We have lists of Virginia specific native plants. Now we’re working on planting diagrams. Did…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Eight steps to a pollinator garden (we are on step 4, but we got a jump start on step 5 already).

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

We asked experts:

This week we will be planting the native plants that have been donated to refurbish our pollinator garden. We are going…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Monday, June 11, 2018

We measured our garden and calculated the exposure:

How much sun vs shade will our pollinator garden get? Come back tonight at 7 and we’ll run the math for these measurements.

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

We visited other native gardens for inspiration:

More pollinator garden. Iron weed, cut lead coreopsis, coneflower, swamp milkweed, black eyed Susans, button bush, and more.

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Thursday, August 23, 2018

Did you know that many of the plants at Mount Vernon are pollinator-friendly natives?

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Friday, August 24, 2018

Spent the morning learning and weeding with the master gardeners and master naturalists at the Glencarlyn Library garden. Have you visited their garden education station yet?

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Sunday, August 26, 2018

We grew some plants from seed:

Today also included checking on the native seedlings planted by the Yellow Jacket Period working on the pollinator…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Saturday, August 25, 2018

We grew some native pollinators by accident, simply by ignoring home gardens and spending too much time at the school garden! Did you know that a garden left unattended can spontaneously erupt with milkweed vine (so sweet-smelling), black eyed Susans, pink wild bean flowers, evening primrose, and more?

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Sunday, August 26, 2018

We asked for donations:

TJMS is trying to get the schoolyard certified as a wildlife habitat, and we are rebuilding our pollinator garden after…

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mountain mint is another native we will be planting this week in our pollinator garden. Very popular with bees 🐝. https://youtu.be/HIzhZY60Pas

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Tuesday, June 12, 2018

We even learned about how and why donations can be a little dangerous, if you can’t tell your natives from your nativars:

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Sunday, August 26, 2018

 

nativars

 

Phase V: Funding Our Planting

So we re-evaluated. Arlington Public Library’s native pollinator garden volunteers have offered us some of their extra plants when we help out at their volunteer days. Some native plants we know we will be able to positively identify, because they don’t have easily confused cultivars/nativars. But we know we’ll need more resources to fill 800 square feet of garden! So we have begun to identify and apply for grants to help fund the remainder of this learning garden rehab.

  • Earth Sangha Plant Grant (this application is almost complete!)
  • Wild Ones Seeds for Education (due October 15)
  • Annie’s Grants for Gardens is for edible gardens– but if we get one, it frees up more of our garden budget for the native pollinator garden (due 11/1)
  • And we can fundraise directly with Donor’s Choose.

Phase VI: Planting!

Stay tuned to this page, or follow us on Facebook for live updates. The Yellow Jacket Period students will be back in the garden in late September, so be sure to check in to learn how our Occultation vs. Solarization project ends up and watch as our students transplant the natives we’ve been carefully tending all summer.

 

Draft Planting Diagrams and Plant Lists

This is a draft planting diagram. Our next steps is to take this to our expert advisors and get feedback on what to change and what to keep, and then send this in as part of our Earth Sangha Plant Grant application. Wish us luck!

Planting Diagram with numbers

1 PawPaws 3 purchased
2 Woodland Sunflower 5-6 donated
3 Ironweed 5-6 donated?
4 Lanceleaf Coreopsis 5-6 donated
5 Evening Primrose 5-6 donated
6 Elderberry 2 purchased
7 Cardinal Flower 6 purchased
8 Spring Beauty 6 purchased
9 Violets 6 donated
10 Milkweed Vine 3-6 donated
11 Native Grasses TBD 4 purchased
12 Mllkweed 6 purchased/donated/seed?
13 Spiderwort 6 donated/purchased?
14 Butterfly Weed 6 purchased
15 Virginia Bluebells 6+ purchased
16 Late Purple Aster 6 purchased
17 Coneflower 6 purchased
18 Black Eyed Susan 6 purchased/donated?
19 Sundrops 6 donated
20 New England Asters 6 purchased
21 Blue Eyed Grass 6 purchased
22 Mountain Mint 2+ donated
23 Swamp Milkweed 3-6 donated
24 Blue Flag
25 Blue False Indigo
26 Yellow Wild Indigo
27 Wild Bergamot
28 Bee Balm
29 Wild Blue Phlox
30 Blazing Star Liatris

 

Here’s a video of the plants donated from Central Library’s native plant garden:

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Friday, October 12, 2018

 

And the plants from Earth Sangha’s Plant Grant:

Our plant grant in person!

Posted by Thomas Jefferson Middle School Community Garden on Thursday, November 8, 2018