Crisp falling leaves and cool mornings don't normally make you think of springtime bees and butterflies – but autumn is the perfect time to plant pollinator gardens.
The Deschutes Land Trust Monarch Butterfly Conservation Program leaders are making it happen across Central Oregon.
"We're delivering plants that will provide important nectar and pollen resources, as well as food for caterpillars, in years to come," explained Amanda Egertson, stewardship director with Deschutes Land Trust.
Last week, Egertson and Peter Cooper, a stewardship associate, delivered 850 native plants to four places in Jefferson County. That makes 2,000 free plants dispersed across Central Oregon in recent weeks.
"Our original plan was to work with students to plant milkweed, a monarch host plant, and other pollinator-friendly native plants at various schools throughout the region. Due to COVID, we've had to shift our plans a bit," Egertson said.
She instead connected with folks at Warm Springs K-8 Academy, Buff Elementary School, Madras United Methodist Church,and the Museum at Warm Springs, who were all eager to help with the Land Trust's work to make butterflies and bees thrive.
Donations from supporters of the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Program helped pay for the plants, and Clearwater Native Plant Nursery in Redmond grew them.
"We want more pollinators," Buff Elementary School Counselor Tracey Sklenar exclaimed as she helped unload the plants to put them safely near the school greenhouse.
The Land Trust gave the school 100 milkweeds and 100 native plants, such as blue flax, scarlet gilia and Oregon sunshine.
"Since the plans to have our students be involved with planting some of the native pollinator plants isn't an option, we will be keeping a few plants in the greenhouse, sending some home to our students so they can plant them at their homes, and some of our staff members will be taking them to their homes to plant them there," Sklenar said.
Buff Elementary teachers had agreed to get the word out to their students that free plants were available for the taking. Sklenar has made it a personal mission to make sure all 200 plants are delivered to her students and staff – even if it means meeting up with kids at school lunch sites or delivering them to homes.
Egertson explained that the plants should be planted outdoors right away – autumn is the right time for native plants to begin taking root – but it could take two or three years before they are established.
Warm Springs K-8 Academy staff welcomed the 250 plants and will send them home with staff and students along with planting instructions and information on pollinators.
They are teaching the students the lesson of responsibility with the project, encouraging them to take care of the planet and help native pollinators.
"If we have some left over, we can plant some near our greenhouse, which will help attract good insects to our garden," said Brinna Keillor, a counselor at Warm Springs K-8 Academy. "We are very grateful for the donation. It is a ray of sunshine during this school year. It gives us a chance to help our pollinators and connect with families and students."
The Museum at Warm Springs employees planted 100 pollinator plants around the museum grounds.
"We are in a cottonwood ecosystem, and the pollinators of the area use this area to live and multiply," said Elizabeth Woody, museum executive director. "To have these plants added to our natural landscape and maintained by the museum adds value to the productivity of the grounds for native plant and animal life."
Madras United Methodist Church members are using their 300 plants to create a large pollinator-friendly flower garden.
Last year was the first year the Land Trust delivered plants to community groups. They decided to do it again this year, despite the pandemic.
"We're excited to give people plants for free, especially during COVID," Egertson said.
According to the Land Trust, monarch butterflies and other native pollinators like bees, bats, and moths play important roles in the natural world.
Some pollinators — like the monarch butterfly — are struggling to thrive in Central Oregon. But they say the community can help by planting more milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants.
"Our goal is to get more milkweed and other native pollinator plants out in the community," said Sarah Mowry, Deschutes Land Trust outreach director. "We are so pleased to partner with such a wide variety of folks to do just that."
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