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pollinator gardens

Attract butterflies to your yard by starting a pollinator garden. Photo by Raina Angelier

By Cayla Rosenhagen

Cayla Rosenhagen

“Think locally, act globally.” It’s a popular expression conveying how small changes accumulate into a significant positive impact felt on a larger scale. Well, in honor of Earth Day, I’d like you to think very locally. Not just close to home, but your home itself—more specifically, your own yard. 

The typical suburban community features perfectly manicured lawns maintained by toxic pesticides. Oftentimes, they are home to ornamental shrubs and trees that are non-native species that provide few benefits to local fauna, that generally prefer to seek food and shelter in plant life that is native to the area. Here’s a list of ways you can take action to support Long Island’s diverse wildlife and the entire planet just by making a few changes in how you care for the greenspace right outside your door.

Grow plants that are native to your region. Your favorite backyard critters will thank you. Native plants offer nutrients that are especially healthy for our local wildlife. For instance, dozens of species of wild birds will flock to a red mulberry bush, and common milkweed will attract endangered Monarch Butterflies. Not to mention they need less of your time and maintenance! Because they’re so well-adapted to our climate, native plants don’t need much (if any) watering and are extremely hardy. To see which species are native to your area, please check out Audubon’s Native Plant Database. https://www.audubon.org/native-plants. 

A North Flicker in leaf litter. Photo by Raina Angelier

Leave the leaves and dead trees. Postpone your spring clean-up and raking the leaves until temperatures reach at least 50 degrees during the day for 7 consecutive days. The dead leaves provide shelter for nesting insects that are the perfect sustenance for many kinds of animals, including baby birds who are hatching this time of year. Dead trees also provide beneficial insects with a home. As long as the dead tree on your property is not threatening any nearby structures, leave it standing to promote a biodiverse ecosystem in your yard. If you are planning on having a tree removed, please do so after nesting season.

Start a pollinator garden. Without pollinators like beetles, flies, bees, butterflies, birds, and ants, three-quarters of all our staple crops wouldn’t exist. Tragically, bee and bird populations are shrinking, primarily due to habitat loss. By growing plants that attract and feed pollinators, you are doing your part to protect hundreds of species of friendly creatures essential to life.

Weed out harmful pesticides and fertilizers. We have become accustomed to depending on weedkillers and chemical-filled plant food to grow pristine gardens and lawns. But these products do more harm than good. 

Pesticides don’t only kill the harmful insects, they kill the good ones, too. They also hurt larger creatures including humans. They can harm your pets and backyard birds, and lead to health complications in people. Fertilizers wreck the balance of natural nutrients in the soil and can make your yard less fertile in the long run. Both pesticides and fertilizers contribute to ground and water pollution. Native plants do not need pesticides and fertilizers as they are already perfectly adapted to our soil composition and ecosystem.

Make your yard a Bird Oasis. Turn your yard into a safe haven for feathered friends by offering them multiple food sources, water, and shelter. Plant native flowering and fruit-producing plants, fill your feeders with a variety of seeds, and put out a birdbath, and watch the chickadees, sparrows, warblers, finches, cardinals, and jays flock in. I also implore you to keep your cat indoors. Outdoor cats are deadly predators to birds and kill 2.4 billion annually in the U.S. alone. Watching birds is a wonderful way to reduce stress and enjoy the beauty of the natural world. To learn more, please visit https://4has.org/bird-oasis.

Reduce your lawn. By shrinking the manicured area of your lawn, not only will you leave more room for native plants, but you’ll also lower your water bill and your emissions by mowing less.   

Harvest rainwater by collecting it in a rain barrel. You can use rainwater to water your garden and lower your water bill. This sustainable water management strategy also eases the stress on utilities during peak water usage. 

Start a compost bin. Composting will reduce the amount of waste you send to the dump and aid your garden as a natural fertilizer. This can be considered a long-term investment in your yard. Plant products like food scraps and paper garbage will decompose to make nutritious plant food in around six months to two years.

To learn more about how to make your yard more eco-friendly, please reach out to the Four Harbors Audubon Society. Also, be sure to stop by the 4HAS’s Tree Fest at the Three Village Historical Society on May 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be educational and fun for the whole family, with craft activities, educational exhibits, a native plant sale and raffle prizes.

Cayla Rosenhagen is a local high school student who enjoys capturing the unique charm of the community through photography and journalism. She serves on the board of directors for the Four Harbors Audubon Society and Brookhaven’s Youth Board, and is the founder and coordinator of Beach Bucket Brigade, a community outreach program dedicated to environmental awareness, engagement, and education. She is also an avid birder, hiker, and artist who is concurrently enrolled in college.

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Photo by Julianne Mosher

Butterflies, bees and little birds.

Those are the creatures that have been living throughout some of Port Jefferson village’s pollinator gardens and helping out the local environment. 

Earlier this summer, the village began receiving some complaints that certain gardens were overgrown — the most common one was a small garden outside of the Port Jefferson Village Center that is home to a pollinator and butterfly garden, with a large anchor front and center.

Village gardener, Caran Markson, said she was injured and unfortunately was put on a medical leave. That’s when the village parks department decided to step in and help clean up the garden that some residents were saying was “getting out of hand.”

When Markson found out, she was devastated.

“I take it very personal,” she said. “We should be educating anyone who lives in the village or who visits the village about what the gardens can do.”

A pollinator garden is a garden that is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a range of pollinating insects. A pollinator garden can be any size and the village is home to many different ones.

These gardens are full of plants that naturally attract, feed and provide habitat for different wildlife, and help the local ecosystem — and ultimately the environment. 

“I had it on a national list through the Pollinator Partnership,” Markson said. “I leave signs about what they do.”

Pollinator Partnership’s is a national nonprofit with the mission to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education and research.

While Markson was gone, many of the plants were torn out.

“I’m blown away,” she added. “I’m so upset.”

When trustee Rebecca Kassay heard that the garden was cleaned up, she decided to create a task force of volunteers to take care of the pollinator gardens while Markson was away.

An environmentalist herself, Kassay knows the importance of the flowers that line the roads of Port Jefferson. 

On Friday, Sept. 10, she and several other volunteers gathered behind the anchor garden at Harborfront Park to clean up the weeds but keep the specific flowers that are home to monarch butterflies and bees.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“That’s part of the reason why it’s here, but it’s also here because it’s beautiful,” she said. “With our village gardener out on medical leave, she specializes in the maintenance of these types of gardens on our park staff. So, as someone who worked with these types of gardens for a decade in my career, I’m very happy to step up and lead local enthusiasts.”

Part of the volunteer program is to not only clean things up, but to also educate people who are interested in learning about the benefits of these plants. 

“This is a great opportunity for them to come down and learn about pollinator gardens, while making their village more beautiful at the same time,” Kassay said.

The trustee added that the next several volunteer meetups will continue to “edit” other gardens.

“The plants sort of grow as they want to, and our goal and responsibility as gardeners of a pollinator garden is to edit and make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing for folks who may or may not know the ecological value of the garden,” she said. 

While Markson appreciates the help while she’s absent, she’s still upset that the anchor garden at the center of the roundabout has been changed.

“It was a wonderful garden,” she said. “It’s a little too late.”

Trustee Kathianne Snaden, who spearheads the village’s beautification efforts, said there will be other initiatives to spruce up the village.

“Our end goal is to clean up and plant more colorful flowers, especially uptown,” she said.

Snaden added that Upper Port has been neglected “for too long,” and “a lot can be done in the short term.”

As development begins with the new apartments there, she decided to add stone or cement planters to overfill with flowers. During the holidays, they will add more Christmas decorations as well. 

“There’s no better way to help businesses and have developers come in than to make it look more beautiful now with color,” she said. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Snaden added another initiative is to create a children’s garden soon, filled with flowers that were purchased this week from the elementary school PTA’s flower bulb sale. Both the children’s garden and uptown planters are expected to start up soon.

Interested pollinator gardeners can email Kassay at [email protected] to RSVP for the next cleanup opportunities on Sunday, Sept. 26, at Harborfront Park from 2-5 p.m., and on Oct. 17 at the triangle garden at High Street and Spring Street.

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Photo from Rebecca Kassay

To maintain and keep Port Jefferson village’s pollinator gardens, Trustee Rebecca Kassay has implemented a new program and is looking for volunteers to help. 

According to Kassay, the village is home to several gardens that attract bees, butterflies, insects and some birds that help keep plants and flowers growing. These gardens full of plants naturally attract, feed and provide habitat for different wildlife. 

Starting this week, Kassay is looking for the community to come together and learn about these different gardens. On Friday, Sept. 10 from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., interested gardeners can meet with like-minded people at Harborfront Park Gardens, to focus on the border along the traffic circle by the Village Center. 

“Whether you’re an avid gardener, or this is your first time working with pollinator plants, we encourage you to join for these hands-on working and learning sessions,” Kassay wrote in the Port Jeff community garden newsletter. 

The program is open to volunteers ages 10 and up. 

“Volunteers will learn about pollinator and native gardens, and their ecological importance, as well as getting to know specific pollinator plants,” she added. “How to care for them, where to source them and more — all while pruning, weeding, digging  and making the village’s pollinator garden’s look as attractive to humans as they look to wildlife.”

There will be two more meet-ups, one on Sunday, Sept. 26 at Harborfront Park and another on Oct. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the triangle garden at High Street and Spring Street. 

Those interested can email Kassay at [email protected].