Parks & Open Spaces Best Management Practices for Pollinators

Open, or green space can be defined as any open piece of land that is undeveloped and is accessible to the public. School parks, public sitting areas, utility right-of-ways (area under power lines), roadsides, round-abouts highway rest stops, and vacant lots are are all examples of underutilized spaces that can be transformed into vital pollinator habitat.

Thoughtful, well-planned open spaces can create healthy environments for pollinators to live in, and also help reduce maintenance needs, reduce erosion, improve water quality, provide water filtration, increase property values and offer ecological benefits to the surrounding landscapes. But the benefits of open green space can reach even further. They give people a sense of community pride, promote physical health, and also can have a significant impact on mental health. 

Principles of open (green) space best management practices

  • plastic smother
    Solarization method removes vegetation in park. photo: L. Schneider
    Conserve biodiversity. A naturally diverse landscape discourages outbreaks of disease or insects. Such a landscape also attracts beneficial insects such as lacewings and lady beetles that prey on unwanted pests. Healthy soil supports plant health and resistance to disease.
  • Restore native vegetation. Consider using native vegetation in landscapes. When buying flowers, the more a plant is genetically manipulated, the less attractive it becomes to wildlife. The plant's natural evolutionary traits provide cues that entice pollinators to visit. For example, the native Echinacea purpurea has been cultivated into a floral frankenstein called "butterfly kisses". This cultivar's flower does not attract pollinators and the seedhead has virtually vanished.
  • Promote nutrient recycling through composting and soil health. Backyard and community composting is an ecologically sound way of disposing of yard wastes and is used to increase soil nutrients. Beetle banks, wood chips, dead wood and leaf piles or "untidy" areas contribute to soil health, and also provide nesting areas for pollinators and beneficial insects.
  • Use integrated pest management (IPM) to control insects and diseases:
    • When choosing plants, pick naturally resistant plants.
    • Inspect and monitor your plants' health on a regular basis, before problems are out of control.
    • Instead of routinely spraying for insects, spot treat problems with soft pesticides such as insecticidal soaps, oils, and biorational products such as spinosad.
    • Adopt biorational practices that use naturally occurring biological control agents, such as parasitoids and predatory insects.
  • Safer weed controls
    • Timed mowing
    • Hand weed, weed wacking, spot treatments
    • Vegetation burn with plastic cover (solarization) or with white vinegar
    • Vegetation smother with cover crop (rye, oats, buckwheat)
    • Vegetation control with animals (goats, sheep, cattle)

Pollinator friendly habitat benefits

  • Other species of wildlife benefit too, such as birds that eat flower seed and caterpillars
  • Provide diverse and abundant pollinator food sources including blooms from spring through fall with nectar and pollen
  • Reduced pesticide use contributes to clean water and a healthy environment
  • Interpretative signage provides awareness
  • Visual appeal and relaxation
  • Increase property values
  • Supports biodiversity

Steps to implementing best managment practices

  1. Select a sunny site that is open and well-ventilated with low unwanted weed densities.
  2. Select plants that will prosper in the soil and growing conditions. Prairie meadows are low maintenance if you choose the correct seed and plant mix. Include a wide variety of plants and grasses to ensure year-round interest.
  3. Site preparation includes removing all weed plants (site prep methods).
  4. Remove weed plants using (organic site prep (smothering, solarization).
  5. Plant a cover crop of buckwheat or oats to out compete weed plants (smother cropping).
  6. Sod removal for turf lawns.
  7. Choose the best planting time, either spring (spring thaw - June 15) or fall (Sept. 15 - soil freeze). Some plants remain dormant or need to overwinter, and come up the following spring.  Watering the first two months encourages higher seed germination and survival. Fall planted prairies do not require watering, the seed will germinate the next spring.  A nurse crop that germinates in fall such as annual rye is recommended for fall plantings.  Prairie seed can be: 1) no-till seeder such as a seed drill which minimizes soil disturbance and has less weeds, 2) broadcast seeder, or 3) hand broadcast.  Seed quality is important. Choose a quality supplier.
  8. Native habitat and gardens require maintenance such as timed mowing, burning, weeding and watering when needed. The first year will require extra care, and especially the first several weeks to remove the unwanted weeds that emerge from the seed bed (hand pull or selectively weed wack). A native prairie generally takes 3 years to fully establish.

Best Management Practices in Open Spaces

Prairie for pollinators
Pollinator Native Prairie Stillwater
pollinator park flower garden planting
oak savannah