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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Creating Habitats and Saving Pollinators: LaceWing Gardening and Consulting Services

Mar 28, 2012 09:56AM ● By Beth Davis

Diane Olson-Schmidt recalls that her lifelong passion for gardening began at the tender age of 3, when she would admire her neighbor’s lush perennial garden. After high school, she enrolled in a horticulture program and eventually went on to become a master gardener through the local extension office. Today, as the owner of LaceWing Gardening, Design and Consulting Services, she shares her knowledge and love of the landscape with clients throughout the Milwaukee area—using sustainable landscape practices every step of the way.

With more than 15 years of experience, Schmidt offers myriad services, including the creation of rain gardens, organic lawn care, landscape maintenance and design, and thinning and renewal pruning. She is especially enthusiastic about educating others about the benefits of creating habitat gardens that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial wildlife; as well as how to transform a garden into a haven for pollinators.

“The decline of birds, bees and other pollinators is on the rise,” Schmidt states, “and no pollinators mean no plants.” Most plants—especially vegetables, fruits and ornamental flowers— are pollinated via thousands of insects, assisted by vertebrates such as birds, bats and rodents. According to Schmidt, wild pollinators help produce up to one-third of the food we eat, and bees are responsible for three-quarters of all pollination. Therefore, creating havens for them is important for our long-term food security.

The honeybee is the best known and most visible pollinator, but Schmidt says their numbers have been severely reduced due to diseases and overuse of pesticides, which weakens the bees’ immune systems. “Without bees, we have no food.” she emphasizes. Schmidt adds that non-honeybee pollinators are responsible for the pollination of around $6 billion in crops each year, accounting for their critical contribution to one-third of the foods we eat. “These pollinators also play a major role in the development of fertile seeds, so gardeners who save seeds from year to year can be assured future crops,” she notes. “Just as important, the pollinators sustain the diversity of natural ecosystems and the other forms of wildlife that inhabit them.”

Schmidt explains that most pollinators require plants that flower sequentially to provide food sources throughout their life spans. Elimination of these food sources by herbicide spraying, and/or clearing of native plants starves the pollinators. Pollinator diversity is also crucial because not every insect can pollinate every flower; each insect must be able to find a specific type, or types, of flower(s) at a certain time of year related to their particular lifespan. She hopes that expanding public awareness can reverse the decline in the diversity of our native pollinators.

Whether living in an apartment or on a 20-acre farm, individuals can add diversity to any yard or garden by simply adding a mixture of plants suited to different moisture and light levels and soil types. This creates microclimates that boost the yard’s ability to develop its own balance system—much like a naturally sustainable ecosystem. For those that don’t have a yard, gardening in containers also works. Schmidt can provide step-by-step instruction or pointers to anyone seeking to do this.

Creating garden habitats for other critters is equally important, says Schmidt. Habitat gardening converts traditional landscape plans into those that attract and support native birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife. Habitat gardening benefits wildlife by providing food, shelter, water and nesting places, with more variety in plant choices plus naturalistic placement and pruning of plants. According to Schmidt, the first step to creating a habitat is to stop using chemicals and pesticides—even on lawns. “These snuff out most life and kill microbes in soil,” she notes. “Plants cannot absorb nutrients from soil without microbes.”

Schmidt also recommends adding birdfeeders and planting large sunflowers with edible seeds. Native, and some non-native, shrubs, perennials and grasses that attract pollinators can be added to an existing landscape. Creating water features with small ponds or birdbath fountains, even created in a kiddy pool, also helps: “Add a few rocks and a pump, and it becomes a real draw for birds,” quips Schmidt.

After 15 years of creating habitats, Schmidt is still inspired: “Each year, I feel as if I’m saving more habitat areas and seeing species that are endangered or rare, depending on the area,” she reflects. “There’s something very spiritual and satisfying about it. I love what I do.”

For more information about LaceWing Gardening, Design and Consulting Services, email [email protected] or call 414-793-3652.