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5 steps companies can follow to change unused spaces into eye-popping pollinator habitat

August 10, 2022

By David Bender

Vacant lots and other low-use areas are ideal plots to establish pollinator habitat. Such habitat requires careful planning and design to avoid mistakes.

Let us imagine you have several acres surrounding your headquarters or warehouses that are planted in fescue grass and require a landscaping crew to fertilize, mow, and thatch on a regular basis. Maintaining the grass is not cheap, and the lawn is not serving any other purpose other than soaking up water, a limited and precious natural resource.

But could you put this patch of land to work for higher purpose and wow your employees and neighbors at the same time? Perhaps even check a box for your company’s sustainability goals?

The answer is “yes” to all those questions. With scientists documenting a worldwide decline in insect and other pollinator species, planting pollinator habitat on your vacant land can benefit bees, butterflies, and other insects. Pollinator plantings are more popular than ever and are an Earth-friendly option for your vacant land.

Pollinator plantings can add significant benefits to your environmental, social, and governance portfolio.

These plots are not only cheaper to maintain over the long run but can be real eye-catchers and earn the admiration of employees and neighbors. They can also benefit your environmental, social, and governance goals. Here are five steps to follow as you consider this pollinator-happy transformation.

1. Understand your assets

If you have a property asset that you would like to turn into pollinator habitat or increase its biodiversity, it is important to understand characteristics of your land.

Topography, for example, is an important consideration. Is it a flat or steep slope? If you have steep slope, you will want to establish grasses and flowers that grow quickly to prevent erosion. Steep slopes are easier to maintain as pollinator habitat because they do not require mowing and lawn mowing equipment can be hazardous to operate on steep slopes.

Location is an important consideration, too. Is your land close to buildings or residences where it would be difficult to conduct a controlled burn to spur new growth? While there are management options other than burning, burning is beneficial to rid old growth and encourage new. Is your land part of an airport, water treatment plant, or other special-access facility that requires a buffer? How and when you access your new pollinator habitat for management is an important consideration.

What kind of soil types do you have? Are they dry, sandy soils, or seasonally moist soils? Understanding your soil types is critical to matching the right plants with the landscape. Planting the wrong plants might mean starting over, so it is important to have a thorough understanding of your land’s soil conditions. Even within a small plot of land, you can have variations of clay, sandy, dry, and moist soils. 

Milkweed plants are ideal habitat for monarch caterpillars and the red milkweed beetle.

2. Consider your goals and objectives

Like many things in life, it is important to set goals and objectives for your pollinator plot. Simply planting seeds and stepping aside is not enough. States, counties, and municipalities can set standards for diversity and quality of your pollinator habitat. There can be Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances standards that require to you meet seed and diversity requirements.

There are also Pollinator Scorecards that rank your pollinator habitat on its incorporation of native species, biodiversity, and use of pesticides. Pollinator plantings at solar farms often have such agreements or scorecards in place. Local permitting or zoning authorities may also require them, making it important for developers to understand how these agreements impact their decisions.

Having solid goals and objectives can save you money and headaches in the long-term. Ensuring that you have the right native seeds for the right ecosystem or biome can make a difference between a successful pollinator project and one that may take years of replanting and managing. 

As the world grapples with the loss of biodiversity and winged pollinators, vacant lots and unused spaces are opportunities to brighten the world with colorful flowers and diverse plants.

3. Research funding options

There are funding opportunities that can offset costs for everything from buying native seeds to managing your property. Local municipalities can provide cost-sharing programs, but larger funding sources can come from the U.S. Department of Energy or the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency that collaborates with landowners and communities to protect natural resources on private lands.

4. Carefully consider site design

Now that you have done your research to understand your property, set out your goals, and explored funding sources, your site design is the next critical step. In this step, you want to make sure you have the right experts. Consulting with ecologists is an obvious choice, but there may be other technicians you need for your site design.

If you are designing your pollinator plot around stormwater-retention ponds, you may need to consult with a water resources engineer. If you are installing pollinator habitat in a new development where streets and other infrastructure are being built, consulting with a civil engineer is worthwhile.

You may have to contact a landscape architect if your pollinator plots reside along trails, benches, and buildings. Carefully considering structures on your property will help you design your site so you can bring in the right equipment to maintain it.

You also want your site to be resilient to more extreme weather events. Designs that consider future climate conditions is a key ingredient for long-term success.

Consulting a variety of experts in the design of your project can help avoid mistakes once you are ready to plant. 

An all-terrain vehicle is used to broadcast seed for pollinator plants on a reclaimed landfill site.

5. Develop a management plan

Next, you will need to develop a management plan that ties together your previous planning efforts. This plan should take into consideration the tools you will need to manage your pollinator plot. Will you be using mechanical equipment rather than fire to manage your plot and encourage new growth? How will you manage non-natives that show up in your plot? It is important to give your pollinator plants a solid start, so they can outcompete non-native plants that emerge. Addressing invasive species is of upmost important in your management plan.

Many states, counties, and municipalities have noxious weed laws that require landowners to actively manage and eliminate them. Some invasive species like kudzu, garlic mustard, and Canada thistle are highly invasive and need to be addressed quickly. Buckthorn seeds, for example, are carried by birds and can root quickly.

It is important to identify invasives early in their life stages so they can be pulled out or treated with an appropriate herbicide.

The new green is multicolored

As the world grapples with the loss of biodiversity and winged pollinators, vacant lots and unused spaces are opportunities to brighten the world with colorful flowers and diverse plants.

Transforming a plot of ground from a well-manicured fescue lawn to wildlife- and pollinator-friendly plot is not only good for your operating and management budget but good for your community, brand, and the environment. It takes careful planning and consideration, however, because mistakes can set you back.

I’m always excited to work with our experienced team of botanists, biologists, and ecologists to create the perfect pollinator plot for your region and situation.

  • David Bender

    David has worked for over 16 years as a restoration ecologist and professional in biological sciences. He’s managed research, developed monitoring protocols, and commented on permits. His current projects focus on surveys for wind and solar projects.

    Contact David
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