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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Elyse Jurgen on Creating a Pollination Paradise

Mar 29, 2024 09:31AM ● By Sheila Julson
Elyse Jurgen, owner of Waxwing Ecoworks Co., has been providing environmental education since 2019, assisting South Central Pennsylvania residents with native plant selections that add beauty to yards and create ecologically sustaining landscapes. As more people express interest in native plantings, Jurgen shares ways that everyone can incorporate native plants into their spaces, regardless of gardening experience or yard size.

Why is it beneficial to incorporate native plants into a landscape?
In addition to creating a joyful, calming space, the work you do in your own spaces, and when your neighbors get involved, will attract wildlife and create greenway corridors that will naturally connect over time. Collectively, we can have a wonderful impact if we work together.

You benefit directly by reducing mowing time while enjoying more life buzzing around your yard. Overall, you’re helping to build essential habitat in this area that was once here, but became fragmented by years of development. We can start building that back.

What are some steps that novice gardeners can take?
For beginners, creating a resilient native garden means having the right plant in the right place. That means conducting a site analysis, observing and gathering the data points, such as hours of sunlight, soil conditions, water flow and how people move in the space where you want to plant. With native gardening, you’re basically mimicking what nature would do—plants that would naturally thrive in that space—instead of imposing upon that space what you specifically want.

What should gardeners know about preparation, soil and maintenance?
Because we’re trying to build back ecological functions in a space and be environmentally friendly, it’s important to not use pesticides. Instead, use more eco-friendly techniques like sheet mulching: layer matte cardboard on the space where you want to plant and introduce wood chips or leaf material on top. That will smother the lawn if you’re trying to make a new garden bed.

Which plants native to the Lancaster-Berks area are good for beginners?
Sedges (native grasses) and groundcover plants pack a lot of function because they cover exposed soil in an existing bed. Instead of spreading mulch, try sedges for those areas. Little foam flowers, heuchera, green-and-gold, woodland phlox and sedum all work well to create a “living mulch” layer.

For seasonal pops of color, the orange milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, are host plants for monarch butterflies. It has a beautiful orange flower and stays under two feet tall.

What about someone more experienced in working with native plants?
Don’t be afraid to plant densely to create a resilient plant community. Research which local ecotype plants are regional to your space and are both biologically and genetically diverse (seed grown). Also, creating a layered landscape with as much complexity as you can in your space will take your native landscapes to the next level.

How can people with no yards or small parcels get involved?
Even little patio pots can make a difference. I once witnessed mountain mint in a clay pot on a porch attract up to five species of pollinators, so even a small plant can make a difference. There are also community efforts through which people can get involved such as educational trainings or volunteer opportunities with local nonprofits that do native plantings and stewarding work. Support efforts in schoolyards or where you work, live, play or worship. Those spaces likely all have potential for planting natives where lawn is underutilized. It’s an opportunity to build biodiversity.

What are some of the available educational programs?
One of the local youth-based programs is called Schoolyard Habitat. It’s facilitated through the School District of Lancaster and funded primarily through a collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation and Pennsylvania Council for the Arts. The program engages urban youth to observe, and then design and implement the transformation of a lawn to a lush habitat garden that serves as an outdoor living classroom in their schoolyard.
An adult training certificate program, Habitat Advocates, is in collaboration with the Lancaster Conservancy. The program trains DIY gardeners to implement native plantings and get involved in a broader spectrum through their HOAs, churches and schools. The Ecological Gardener Training program with Horn Farm Center is an apprenticeship-style program where participants do field observations, then design and install a garden at Horn Farm.

In addition, a conservation landscaping training has been created to support landscaping crews at retirement centers and other places that are seeking ways to move to more environmentally friendly practices.

What do you hope to see moving forward?
Owners of private spaces can use natives to help reverse our environmental crises and tackle some of the larger questions of climate change. It’s important that we normalize ecological plantings in the same way that we’ve culturally normalized pristine lawns and the mowing and treatment of that lawn with chemicals and irrigation. I would love to see ecological spaces full of native plantings become the new “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Waxwing Ecoworks Co. is based in Lancaster County. For more information, call 717-676-1045 or visit