Plymouth Pollinator Patch

In early 2023, we were awarded a grant from the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society to install a pollinator garden at Black Horse Park in Plymouth Township!

We will turn this empty grass island near the parking lot into a thriving garden full of native wildflowers. Currently, this grass provides essentially no benefits to our insects and wildlife.

However, by installing native plants here, we will:

  • provide our bees, butterflies, moths, birds, and other wildlife with food, nectar, pollen, and shelter.
  • reduce the amount of grass that needs to be mowed, thus reducing mower emissions, labor / time, and cost to the township.
  • reduce stormwater flooding. Native wildflowers have much deeper root systems than turf grass, which enables water to percolate into the soil much easier, instead of running off.
  • engage the community by:
    • involving members in the garden installation and maintenance,
    • educating with signage and labels (hoping to inspire more residents to bring the benefits of native plants to their landscapes),
    • and sharing plants and seeds for home gardens as the Plymouth Pollinator Patch fills in.
  • increase the beauty of the park, attracting visitors to gaze at the busy insects and pretty flowers!

Why Native Plants?

Native plants are those that evolved in our particular region, ecosystem, and habitat. They occurred naturally here prior to European colonization, before people started intentionally or accidentally moving plants around the world.

Most garden centers and plant nurseries are loaded with non-native species from Asia, Europe, and other parts of the planet, and unfortunately, most of us choose to plant these species because they tend to look unmarred since our native insects cannot eat them. While some may look nice, these plants offer very little to our wildlife and are oftentimes detrimental to our ecosystems.

Invasive species are non-native plants that have escaped our gardens, yards, and landscapes. When they escape into our remaining wild spaces (forests, meadows, roadsides, etc.), they take the place of our native plants. Our local insects and wildlife did not evolve with these invasive plants, so they usually can’t eat them or use them to complete their life cycles. As our wild places fill up with invasives, our ecosystems become much less productive. This is one of the main reasons for declining wildlife populations in the United States.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) remains a popular ornamental plant in our landscapes, despite its ability to spread into natural areas, as seen in the above photo. Here, this non-native invasive plant out-competes native shrubs and wildflowers, and reduces ecosystem function by decreasing the amount of food and energy in the food web.
Photo by Vermont Invasives.

So how do we fix it? It’s simple – we replace the non-native invasive species on our property with native plants, like the ones listed below! Most of the species in our pollinator patch are perennials, which will return and expand each year as their root systems grow.

The garden will appear sparse in its first year or two, as we wait for the perennials to spread their roots and form larger clumps. In the meantime, we have also included a beneficial native annual, Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), in between the clusters of perennials. Partridge pea will supply nectar for insects, add nitrogen into the soil, and reduce the vacant space where weeds may otherwise grow. As the perennials expand, those annuals will disappear.

Where Do You Buy Native Plants?

We are lucky to have a plethora of environmental centers, arboreta, public gardens, and nursery centers that offer great native plants. Native plants are typically tough to find at big-box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, but there are occasionally some. Instead, we recommend supporting your local community by shopping at one of the following places:

We purchased most of our plants for the pollinator patch as plugs from Prairie Nursery. Plugs are good options because they are relatively cheap and arrive with a deep root system already established!

What Did We Plant?

Here are the native species we’re planting in our pollinator garden!

Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly Milkweed

A tremendous pollinator plant and host to the Monarch Butterfly.

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun

Symphyotrichum ericoides – White Heath Aster

Fall-blooming pollinator powerhouse!

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Height1′ – 3′

Lupinus perennis – Wild Lupine

An uncommon plant in our area with striking blue/purple spiral blooms.

Soil MoistureDry
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height1′ – 2′

Solidago speciosa – Showy Goldenrod

Native goldenrods support more butterflies and moth species than any other herbaceous plant in our area!

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Height1′ – 3′

Solidago rigida – Stiff Goldenrod

Goldenrods bloom in the fall and provide our pollinators with a bunch of pollen and nectar before the winter.

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Height3′ – 5′

Pycnanthemum virginianum – Virginia Mountain Mint

In midsummer, Mountain Mint is covered in small white flowers, often spotted with purple, atop strongly upright stems. 

Soil MoistureMoist, Wet
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height2′ – 3′

Penstemon digitalis – Foxglove Beardtongue

The tubular flowers attract long-tongued bees such as bumblebees and mason bees, as well as hummingbirds!

Soil MoistureMedium, Moist
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height2′ – 3′

Monarda fistulosa – Wild Bergamot

Highly adaptable! The fragrant lavender flowers are a popular nectar source for a wide variety of bees and butterflies.

Soil MoistureDry, Medium, Moist
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height2′ – 5′

Asclepias syriaca – Common Milkweed

The most recognizable milkweed! The extremely fragrant blooms attract and benefit many pollinators.

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height2′ – 4′

Carex muskingumensis – Palm Sedge

Native to wooded lowlands, Palm Sedge is widely used in landscaping. It makes an excellent grass-like groundcover.

Soil MoistureMedium, Moist
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height2′ – 3′

Symphyotrichum laevis – Smooth Aster

A hardy plant that defies frost and keeps blooming into November, with many lavender-blue, star-like flowers.

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Height2′ – 4′

Chamaecrista fasciculata – Partridge Pea

This wildflower provides bright summer color, and adds nitrogen to the soil! A pollinator favorite.

Soil MoistureDry, Medium
Sun ExposureFull Sun, Partial
Height2′ – 3′

The process:

Here’s what we did to install the garden at Black Horse Park:

1) We first came up with a species list of native plants that we wanted to include in the garden. Species were selected based on mature height, appropriateness for conditions, bloom time, etc. We then purchased these plants as plugs online from Prairie Nursery.
2) We drew a rough map of our planting plan, including our winding, forked wood chip path.

3) We placed a tarp on the area about a month before planting, trying to kill the grass. In retrospect, it would have been better to cover the area for a longer amount of time, and perhaps with cardboard.
4) We dug out the sod, trying to get as many of the grass roots as possible. It was hard work – this may be the most labor-intensive part of the process, but could have been sped up or eliminated if the turf had been covered! We then raked off as much grass and roots as possible, and smoothed out the surface.
6) The walking path was then marked off with flags, and filled in with wood chips.
7) We covered all the future flower beds with 1/4″ of leaf mulch.
8) We spaced the plugs on the leaf mulch roughly based on the map and planted each plug carefully.
9) We watered, making sure to give each plant a good start in its new home.
10) We placed 3″ of leaf mulch around the plants to keep the grass from regrowing and to help maintain the moisture in the soil.
11) Water, water water – we have been visiting twice a week to water the plugs. This will help them get established!

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