Musings from a Phoenix Pollinator Garden

Design: TJ’s framework drawing for pool and landscape. This is the third post in this series. You can read the first post here.

Bucking the trend of right angle, manicured modern design, we decided to go with organic shapes to soften the landscape and align with the natural shape of the plants. Have we waited long enough for this to come back into vogue? That has yet to be seen, but, of course, it’s a moot point since we’re designing the yard for ourselves (and then, ultimately, pollinators too!)

It’s worth noting that every pool designer was only offering rectilinear pool designs. In fact, our pool builder said he had not built a freeform pool in about a decade. Fortunately for us, TJ is a true landscape artist and provided a framework that we loved.

Landscape Framework (tjfitzloff@gmail.com)

On the left side of the drawing is the North Side yard. As previously mentioned, this area was defined as a xeriscape with walkways, with a strong need for privacy in the east corner, and a requirement for water retention and control for roof runoff.

On the right side is the South Side yard, which was defined with oasis elements around the pool, a strong need for privacy at the south wall, and a requirement for water retention and control for roof runoff.

I added drip irrigation infrastructure in four zones:

  • South side yard
  • North side yard
  • North side along the house
  • Cacti and succulents

The final implementation of this plan varied from the foundation drawing, as is often the case with the best laid plans. Considerations affecting change included:

  • A 3 year plan for privacy, which required choosing faster growing plants at a higher density than shown in the drawing
  • Plant availability – I don’t have a landscape license so couldn’t buy wholesale, but did almost all of the purchasing and planting. Some plants called out in the drawing were not practical to procure and plant given the desired size or function.
  • Cost, of course. As anyone who has planned and completed large projects is likely aware, you can cost, labor and time, but not all three at once.

Coming up next: Planting, Phase 1

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Musings from a Phoenix Pollinator Garden

Design: North Side Yard

Welcome back! This is the second installment in this series – in the previous post I presented the history of the project and the design considerations for the South Side Yard – you can view that post here.

The side yard on the north side of the house has two separate microclimates. The area near the house gets sun in the summer, including late afternoon sun, but during the late fall until early spring, no sun hits the landscape because it’s shaded by the house. Selecting plants for this area can be a challenge, but with some judicious selections the summer sun can be moderated. This area will also be responsible for retaining and controlling water runoff from the roof.

Towards the block fence the sun exposure is more consistent, especially for taller shrubs and trees. The goal here is to have a xeriscape and walkways, similar in design to a botanical garden.

Northwest Side Yard

On the west end of the side yard there is a mild need for privacy screening, but a much stronger need for shade since the late afternoon summer sun comes blazing over the front gate. You can almost feel the heat radiating from the dirt in this early afternoon picture. So we’ll be using trees and shrubs to create some microclimates for plants and people.

Northeast Side Yard

The east end of the side yard has two large 2-story homes, both with second story balconies, so privacy is a big consideration. Screening will be accomplished with trees and shrubs.

Coming up:


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Musings from a Phoenix Pollinator Garden

Blank Slate

Landscaping a bare earth tract home backyard into a taste of paradise, then evolving it to support pollinators and the web of characters that support an ecosystem. This is the first of a series of posts to share the story of discovery and a labor of love.

It’s 2019, and after 9 months of searching for a resale home, we ended up purchasing a new tract home further out than we wanted, but availability and price aligned to a relative sweet spot, and we made the leap.

(A View from the Rearview Mirror: A great bit of luck, that leap. Who knew a pandemic was on the horizon, and home prices would begin to see upward price pressure that was unimaginable. In fact, when the pandemic first hit, the developer began discounting homes due to lack of demand.)

We had just moved to Phoenix from the midwest and I had taken some landscape classes at the Desert Botanical Garden to learn about plant selection, irrigation and water conservation, so this project would put the newfound knowledge to good use.

I wasn’t, however, yet aware of the importance of native plants to support pollinators in the yard. So the foundational landscape that we designed and planted was focused on a botanical garden style xeriscape with oasis elements. Tuning the landscape for pollinators came later, after the pandemic hit and I became involved with the MetroPhoenix EcoFlora iNaturalist project (more on that later) and the Maricopa Native Seed Library.

South Side Yard Design

South Side Yard (A/C wall of house faces 191 degrees South)

A blank slate can be daunting, as shown above in our initial “scorched earth” yard. This side yard faces slightly off from 180 degrees south, so it gets lots of winter sun. Because of the way the sun travels, however, it also gets late afternoon summer sun, which is the hardest on plants.

A two story home with a second story balcony, and a next door home that’s close to the fence, guided us to design for privacy along the fence line. Another design element would be a pool to make the summers more enjoyable and to add an oasis in the desert aesthetic. We also wanted walking paths to give the yard a botanical garden feel.

And of course, water conservation is a necessary and practical aspect of the design. To efficiently deliver water to the plants I decided to use multiple zones of drip irrigation, and since rain water (hopefully the monsoons will return in 2022!) is the best hydrator for plants, the design will incorporate swales to retain water shed from the roof, which drains along the wall with the A/C unit.

Coming up:


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The potential consequences of ‘bee washing’ by Sheila R. Colla (2022)

Over recent decades, the plight of wild bees and other pollinators has gone from a niche area to one of the most mainstream environmental topics. Scientific research interest, capacity and consequently publications have grown tremendously in recent years, as has mainstream media coverage. The public has been engaged in a variety of ways to “save the bees” including through community science, policy consultation, planting of pollinator gardens and other widespread initiatives and campaigns … ‘Bee washing’, a term coined by MacIvor and Packer (2015), refers to items or actions claiming to support declining bee populations, and thus claiming to be pro-environment, without due diligence or scientific support … The crux of the matter is that when conservation actions are misplaced, as in the case with bee washing, they can actively harm populations meant to be conserved, waste limited resources (e.g. time, energy, money), misinform the public and/or de-legitimize scientific evidence.

Excerpts from Colla, S. R. (2022). The potential consequences of ‘bee washing’ on wild bee health and conservation.

To read more, visit https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijppaw.2022.03.011 or the International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 18, 30–32

Native bumblebees may be threatened by “pathogen spillover” from managed species

In order to better protect wild bee health and biodiversity, conservation actions and policy will have to shift away from bee washing to more evidence-based, nuanced and precautionary approaches. Efforts should focus on reducing the reliance of systems on managed bees and reducing the impacts of managed bee use on wild bees. This will require policy which acknowledges and values the importance of wild bee health biodiversity for pollination services for crop plants and for resilience under climate change. Critical actions to protect wild bee health includes screening and monitoring of pathogens among commercial stock and in adjacent wild populations.

Excerpt from Colla, S. R. (2022). The potential consequences of ‘bee washing’ on wild bee health and conservation.

Bumblebees of the Southwest

Yesterday, I posted about an opportunity for public participation in a bee and plant survey. Today, I want to share the 5 most common bumblebees in Arizona and New Mexico, according to iNaturalist.

American Bumblebee: Despite being on the verge of the endangered species list, it is the most common to see in our area. Females, especially queens, are large and have the most black bands on their backs of any species here.

Bombus pensylvanicus sharing Common sunflower with Svastra obliqua (longhorn bee) in Albuquerque

Sonoran Bumblebee is a close relative of the American and can be hard to tell apart. You are more likely to see them outside in the low desert around Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Cruces.

Picture © danabutters on iNaturalist.org

Morrison’s Bumblebee is the third most common of the large, black and yellow bumbles and closely related to the Nevada Bumblebee (6th most common). This species is almost entirely yellow and its conservation status is Vulnerable.

Bombus morrisoni enjoying a Prairie sunflower in author’s garden

Now we get to the smaller, red-belted species. First up is Hunt’s Bumblebee, which “is a striking species, consistently marked with deep colors except in faded individuals.”

Picture © Tom Kennedy on iNaturalist.org

The Great Basin Bumblebee is number 5 in our area. This species also has yellow hairs on its face, but a different pattern of black, yellow, and red than Hunt’s, with red and black hair bands touching on the abdomen.

Picture © Jessee J. Smith on iNaturalist.org

Please check out Bumble Bee Watch and Xerces Society for more information.

For more species and identification tips, The Bumble Bees of Colorado is the best guide around.

Ask a Bumblebee

Source:  Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab (BIML) | Facebook

USGS/FWS Native Bee Lab have developed a simple Plant/Bumble Bee Survey that permits anyone to survey what plants Bumble Bees use anywhere there are Bumble Bees (literally). Our goal is to quantify which plants bumble bees use, rank them by that use, and also identify which ones they don’t use. 

We call it “Ask a Bumble Bee.”

How can I get involved? Just email <bumblebeecount@gmail.com> 

American Bumblebee, Bombus pensylvanicus

Details:

  • You don’t need to identify bumble bee species (though our goal is to get you there)
  • Everything is non-lethal 
  • You only need a cellphone (for taking pictures of plants), pencil, paper
  • You can survey any location where bumble bees occur
  • Your garden, arboretums, parks, plantings, natural areas, refuges, urban, suburban, farm, wilderness, roadsides, and weedy patches are all places we would like you to survey. The richer the plant diversity, the more plants are competing for bumble bees and clearer preference will be.
  • You can survey a site repeatedly throughout the year. 

Basic instructions:

  1. Take a half-hour walk on whatever path you like 
  2. Take notes about all the blooming plants to 10 feet on either side of that path 
  3. Count all the bees along this route and note what flowers are they on 
  4. Take pictures of all the flowering species (so we can check ids later. Note: iNaturalist.org and apps are great for insect and plant ID.) 
  5. Take pictures of your field sheets and upload all the pictures using your phone (no apps to download!) 
  6. Done (but we want you to do more than one really) 

Landscaping for Pollinator Diversity – From Southwest Yard & Garden Blog

Are all bees beneficial?

“For the most part, yes. Wild bees and honey bees need pollen and nectar to survive and establish their nests. Some bees can become pests when they build nests in areas where humans (or animals) live and play, but even those bees offer benefits as pollinators. Many bees look for open cavities or cracks in trees and walls where they can build their nests. To prevent bees from being pests in structures, patch holes or use screening. “

To read more, visit: https://nmsudesertblooms.blogspot.com/2021/03/landscaping-for-pollinator-diversity.html

What should I plant for the most pollinators?

As much as possible! Okay, that’s not much of an answer.

First, which kinds of pollinators do you want to attract?

Hummingbirdsred tubular Penstemon and Acanthus flowers work great.

Beessunflowers are your best bet.

Butterflies and moths aren’t so picky, but you’ll want to provide host plants, like milkweed for Monarchs.

Left: Male longhorn bees (genus Melissodes) shelter overnight on sunflowers (Helianthus)

Right: Spiny goldenweed (Xanthisma spinulosum) volunteers in author’s yard

Where can I buy these plants? Check out our new page here: pollinatorweb.com/host-plants/native-plant-nurseries/

Also, don’t kill all the “weeds” in your yard. Many native plants are dispersed by wind and birds and will grow on their own if given a chance.

New Insect Page on PollinatorWeb.com!

I am happy to introduce some fantastic flying critters, from popular to obscure. In my suburban Albuquerque yard, I have recorded over 120 species from tiny fairy bees (Perdita) to noisy, showy cicada killers. I hope you will go find some in your neighborhood. Take time to appreciate them and upload the pictures to iNaturalist.org, which is a fantastic community.

Left: Two-spotted Scoliid wasps on Arugula

Leaf cutter bee on Common sunflower