Backyard pollinator gardens grow

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published June 29, 2022

 A monarch butterfly lands on a New England aster.

A monarch butterfly lands on a New England aster.

Photo provided by Valerie Malaney

 Rochester Pollinators founder Marilyn Trent has a pollinator garden on the side of her home.

Rochester Pollinators founder Marilyn Trent has a pollinator garden on the side of her home.

Photo provided by Marilyn Trent


METRO DETROIT — Homeowners looking to spruce up their yards can add some gorgeous color to their landscapes while helping to increase the local pollinator population.

Pollinators, experts say, are vital to the health of the state’s ecosystems and agriculture industry.

Butterflies and other pollinators are being threatened by a number of factors, including habitat loss, increased pesticide use and new diseases. In the United States, a vast majority of land has been altered in some way, including the creation of millions of acres of lawns that often lack the native plants needed to support pollinators.

In an effort to preserve and support pollinators, a group called the Rochester Pollinators is working to reintroduce Michigan native plants into local landscapes while educating the public on their importance.

The most effective way to help, according to Rochester Pollinators creator Marilyn Trent, is by planting a pollinator-friendly garden with milkweed for the monarch butterflies to lay their eggs and other native plants that are good for other butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

“We’re really just trying to change people’s perception of their lawns, and it’s working. People really do care,” said Trent.

Valerie Malaney, of West Bloomfield, has been maintaining a pollinator-friendly landscape at her home for over 20 years.

“I was trying to create an ecological landscape that would provide food and habitat all year-round so that I could see more butterflies and other pollinators, and bring the birds in, and I’ve been pretty successful,” she said. “I see butterflies on a regular basis in my yard. The first butterfly was a morning cloak, and it was nectaring on my red maple tree. So many people think of only flowers as being the important thing for pollinators, but in the early spring, some of our first flowers are actually our trees and our shrubs.”

Novice gardeners can start small by adding a few native plants to a container pot on their porch and incorporating larger beds of native plants as they gain more experience.

“You can take some simple steps to reimagine your lawns as a habitat and part of the eco-horticulture,” Trent added.

Early blooming plants — like spring bulbs or pachysandra — or very late bloomers — such as sedum or anemone — are often the most-needed food sources for pollinators since there are fewer floral resources available during those times.

Malaney, who has a background in restoration ecology, recommends incorporating plants like rose milkweed, showy goldenrod, New England aster, native wild strawberry, and black-eyed Susan into your garden.

“You want to choose plants that are suited to your type of sunniness and soil moisture,” she said.

Most Michigan native plants have deep roots and require less watering than nonnative species, according to Malaney, who said they also require very little maintenance once established in your garden, and can grow back each year.

The process, she said, does require a bit of patience.

“We tend to say, in native plants, there is a three-year mantra. The first year it looks like the plants are sleeping, but they are really putting down their roots into the ground that first year. The second year, they’ll creep — so you’ll start seeing the plant expand a little bit and really flower. And by the third year, we say they leap — so they might start sending out seeds that could fill in areas that were bare and really get to their full form,” she explained.

For more information about the Rochester Pollinators, or to access a free Michigan Native Plant Garden Guide, visit