28 Al Shay – Urban Landscapes for People and Pollinators (in English)

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Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. This time of year in Western Oregon, it's dark and it's damp.

A great time to let your mind wander a little bit into the spring and think about transitioning some of your lawn or garden into pollinator habitat. And I thought this was a great opportunity to tap the shoulder of Al Shea. Now, those of you at Oregon State University know Al. He is an instructor in the Horticulture Department, but he's also responsible for some of the wonderful pollinator habitats we have around campus and the city of Corralis.

Al is really experienced. He has over 20 years working in the field managing landscapes at places like Eugene Country Club, the Oregon Garden, and DeSantis landscapes. He has been an instructor here since 2010 and he's been training students in the practical and aesthetic approach to taking these garden landscapes, making them stunning and beautiful, but also sustainable and wonderful habitat for pollinators. So this is a great episode to get you out of the dreary winter and thinking ahead to bees and flowers and really vibrant gardens just over the horizon in the spring. Hope you enjoy the episode. I am so excited to have across the table with me with a big flurry of books about landscaping and pollinators. Al Shea from Oregon State University. Welcome to Pollination Al.

Speaker 2: Thank you, Andoni. It's absolutely a delight to be here with you this afternoon.

Speaker 1: You know, I always say I'm excited, but I've been trying to get you on the show for a long time. And, you know, Al, when I first showed up on the job, I think Al was right there on my doorstep, you know, talking about pollinators and he really had this vision for pollinators that extends way back before when I started.

So everybody on campus knows you. If you do anything with pollinators, some of the really beautiful landscapes we have here at OSU, you're responsible for. You sort of brought them together, you got the ball rolling. Why did you get the ball rolling? When did it start rolling for you and what did you have in mind when you got it started? Sure.

Speaker 2: Well, Andoni, first of all, I was on your doorstep for anybody else because I recognized in you, someone who could take over a lot of the work I was trying to do and do and do it better.

So it's just been great to have you here. First of all, well, look, I've been in this industry for 38 years and a large part of my initial training right here at Oregon State University was pretty conventional. It was the mow, blow, and go sort of mentality.

And I embraced it. Mow, blow, and go. Mow, blow, and go. That's right. A lot of these graduates left the program when they graduated and went out to start, you know, landscape maintenance companies such as they are.

And they've done exceedingly well. I took a different path, stayed pretty much aligned with institutions as they were, and took it from there. I could never get enough horticulture that's for sure. So over the course of those years, going from a wide array of different venues from Oregon State University to Eugene Country Club to the Oregon Garden on to a commercial venue, a DeSantis landscape before I finally broke down, gave up, and figured out I had to come back to graduate school. I've seen a lot of vision or a lack thereof on the part of not only the American public but professionals as well. And I think, you know, to get back to your point about when I might have had some idea that a landscape is more than strictly eye candy as it were, probably occurred when I was at the Oregon Garden when I was the horticulture manager there. And I had an opportunity to work with horticulturists. One of my first jobs was overseeing the installation of literally tens of thousands of native plants.

So it was a quick study for me to get up to speed. And talking with some of these ecologists, it became clear that there was an opportunity, at least in that venue, to get plants on, as they said, a trajectory that the system could kind of manage itself. Certainly not that easy or even at all possible in an urban environment, but it got me thinking. As time went on and I came back to Oregon State for this degree and went up teaching here, it seemed just a horrible shame to have 500 acres of space here on this campus and have it all strictly geared towards something you look at as you pass by. We could do a better job than that. I mean, as I teach all of my design students, I ask a lot of them, but in the end, it has to be a pretty picture.

Otherwise, I can't sell it. You know, most of our conversations are between people like yourself and me here on this floor and we're all kind of on the same page. But that's not the case for the American public. There's very little understanding of the challenges we face from an environmental perspective or the other fauna. We tend to summarily ignore that are ever present in the landscape as well.

Speaker 1: So I've really enjoyed talking to you about this over the, you know, trying to form this picture in my mind of it does have to look really good, but we have some habitat and ecological requirements that we can really leverage in urban landscapes. So tell us your secret or some of your failures too. Like, where has it gone? Well, that's why I'm laughing.

Speaker 2: Because most of them today have been failures, but we are learning a lot. We're learning a lot. You know, one of my first attempts at this was to strictly utilize all natives. So we'll cover a lot of ground in my answers, I'm sure, for issues that a lot of folks think about, you know, what's better, an exotic or a non-native age-old question versus a native.

So look, I'm as lazy as anybody else. I said, I'm going to throw out a bunch of native seed that we purchased from Linda Boyd, the biologist at Hergits Seedlings to have a great program where she collects an awful lot of seed within our Providence right in the Lamid Valley. And there you go.

It's up for purchase at a wide array of different mixes. It became apparent pretty quickly, though, that restoration is one thing. And using these plans to create an appealing landscape in an urban environment is something entirely different. I think most folks here in the Lamid Valley in the Northwest understand when I say we live in a Mediterranean or a summer dry region, everything happens early, really early and consequently, it's over early. So if our goal was to sell a construct, a complex pound of plants that could be used in an urban environment to, you know, some of the black-clad hipsters in Portland, it's going to be a hard sell. And half of it looks brown by August. And that's what we discovered pretty quickly.

And then one of my biotechs decided to do a little quick hedgerow with a lot of the plants I was using, he'd take leftovers and he just jammed it in against this, this fence line we have and created this wonderful little, little hedgerow. And he was, he was a little bit more persistent and conspicuous when it came to management. Yeah. And what happened by the end of August, was his plants looked much, much better than mine. So there is another little flip.

It's like, well, you can't walk away from it. Okay. Well, first of all, you can't plant only natives.

Yeah. If you want to have things looking good by August, you can't walk away and not do a little bit of weeding and a little bit of watering and a little bit of mulching to keep that vision acceptable to most folks who, who don't understand that brown really is a color, but it just, it conjures up images of neglect. Every time we see that dead grass looks brown and it shouldn't, but it does. So that's kind of where we're at now. We're, we're sort of figuring out how we can combine plants that flower longer. And those are non-native elements. And then when to move in and clean up a little bit of an area. So that's as much green pervading as there is brown.

Speaker 1: That's great. Okay. For me as a non-garner, I, when I walk around, well, I guess when I walk around your landscapes, I am the egghead and I'm just marveling at the biodiversity. And I, you know, I've been to the first year in Oregon, just kind of walking around various gardens. I do the things that I thought I knew about what would create a habitat have been changed. There's a really great opportunity, I think that maybe falls on my end and really helping the public sort of appreciate all the critters that are in there. But I can understand this issue of browning and this issue of aesthetics and maybe walk us through more specifically. So let's talk about maybe some of the beds that you've established here and you know, what's been a successful kind of combination.

Speaker 2: I think that that's a great and provocative question. No, so for your listeners, it's certainly a challenge if you're going to just focus on annuals and herbaceous perennials. A lot of the attraction for our native pollinators comes from both native annuals and native herbaceous perennials as well as exotics.

So what we're doing is we're trying to move in some really super tough, drought tolerant, broad leaf evergreens and coniferous evergreens as well. Elements that can really go without any water at all. Then what water they do get, I'll just jump back to the previous comment I made about putting it a little bit of maintenance.

We're talking about irrigating about twice a month every two weeks. Oh wow. Okay. Give the garden a good soaking. Now, you know, certainly, that's a lot more than simply walking away and not having to give it any irrigation. I've done constructs with plants that can survive those constraints. But really, when you think about it, most folks are kind of watering their home landscape almost every day, every other day.

So moving some of these coniferous elements and broad-leaf evergreens as well. So you have a backdrop. Uh-huh. Okay. It's kind of cheating a little bit.

Okay. And then start to weave in a wide panoply of herbaceous perennials. Cause that's, that's really the bread and butter when it comes, I think, to pushing habitat construct. I'm thinking here as I'm talking, I'll tell you why in a minute, uh, for our native, our native pollinators. When I'm thinking of, and you know, one of the big things is, well, what, what can I plant early in the season? What can I plant late in the season? Yeah.

Well, the perennials will certainly help us out late in the season, but not early in the season. Mm hmm. So a couple of things there, sail, X species willows, we've got a lot of them out here, go back to natives.

Mm hmm. When you want to come up with, a palette of plants that really going to help us out and help our pollinators out who are out there, February, March, what's going on there? Well, we do have trees that will pollinate early. Hazelnut is one.

Very early. Willow again is one native dogwood, and cornice Natalia is one. Our native maple is another one. And that's where you need to have enough sense to realize, well, look, these native pollinators evolved with native flora.

And during February and March, there are precious few things flowering. Maybe this is the time to look at natives and I do. Mahoney aquifolium to violate my own rule here. A native Oregon grape, it has a couple of cousins, some hybrids, Arthur Menzies and Charity that are flowering in the middle of January. They're really early and there are their big, beautiful plants. Stunning plants. So that's an easy sell and accomplishes a lot for us.

Speaker 1: And like you say, a little bit of it fills that gap. It's a month or two earlier than the native Mahoney.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then there's so many other things that do flower. I mean, we have a winter flower in Camelia, Camelia's Sankwa, Hamamalus, a witch hazel. I'm not really sure how attractive they are to pollinators, but I think that's some of the things you and I are going to figure out as we go forward. And then I was at my kitchen table on Saturday and my wife asked me if I wanted this document in my office or to take it to O.C. with me. And you'll see it's one of these handy dandy laminated foldouts of wildflowers of Oregon's Cascade range. Oh, I need one of those. You should. I think everyone should have one.

That's great. At least one. It's probably about 60 to 70 different plants here.

Pretty handy dandy. But I started looking at it. And the first thing that catches my attention is Oregon Anenemy. Anenemy, Oregon. And when does it flower? March to June. Oh, March.

That's pretty early. Blue-eyed grass is a rinkrium. Idahoans. April to July.

So, uh, Camus, I'm sure we all recognize Camus. And here's what I've been trying to get for years at from Seven Oaks Native Nursery right outside of town. Pacific Hounds Tongue, Senegalosum Grande from March to April. So it really has a very narrow window, but flowers early in every single year they're sold out. So now I'm going to, right now I'm going to put my order in for next year. Just once again, they are sold out.

It's like, well, how early do I have to get ahold of this one? But, my point is to not only look at native geophytes, you know, bulb and bulb allies but, you know, who knows what the response will be to a lot of other early flowering geophytes like Galanthus and some of our species, tulips. So I think that's an area for exploration as well.

Speaker 1: All right. So natives can play a really big role in that spring flush of flowers. And we're looking at woody perennials, but also trees. Trees. Absolutely. We look with often. Okay. So we move in, we kind of, those all fade. And then what are we seeing coming into our, or some of your favorites?

Speaker 2: She was, you know, the favorites thing is great, but I'd be stumbling around here. So I actually brought in a couple of the lists I'm working with right now. So this seed order was made up for a company called Outside Pride. Anybody can get ahold of them right online and they are a mail order and, a little bit of the challenge with some of our purveyors of native stock that are local, well, they're all wholesalers. So it's hard to find a retailer. We do have one locally, Shanaard's Nursery right here in Fallone that is stocked right now with native bulbs.

So, but that's not the rule. Here's an opportunity to get whatever you want online and they send you the seed and the way you go. And we'll talk about germination in a bit. So we have chicory, choreopsis, cornflower, echinacea, oringium, false indigo, flax, gaillardia, gay feather, globe thistle, hollyhock, nirromburgia, nigella, vertebita, safflower, psylliphyum, and verbina. Just to name a few.

And again, you know, I could rattle names off from now until the cows come home. But if folks want to get on the line and start looking at this stuff, I think it's really the way to go. And one doc that really caught my attention has this big bold heading on top. Technical notes.

Speaker 1: Okay. That's kind of standoffish a little bit, but it's not. It's very accessible. It was put out by the USDA Youth Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And it's simply titled a subtitle under there as plans for pollinators in Oregon. And it's absolutely fabulous.

I know, and haven't you looked at this available free online, free online. What I love in the back, you know, they go through constructs, like if you wanted to do some alley cropping, if you're into agroforestry or a constructed wetland and why you should think about, but really for, for me and a whole bunch of other people out there, whether we're experts or not, they start to lay out a list of plants, almost from initially from a crop perspective. So you've got black-eyed Susan and blanket flower and bluebells and duckweeds, which definitely are some of my favorite herbaceous perennials for pollinators out here, Ariaginum species, then down to chicory, Cassanthum.

I mean, it makes life so simple. Pinstum, pincelia, pincushion, and it gets even better. Once you get to the back, they kind of highlight a lot of these plants. And here's where you can see a wide array of willow species that are flowering early and have the bloom period.

And they don't just say early, they say very early. So these are some of the things I'm going to start focusing on. Omeliaris, Rassiformis, our native Osoplum, Ocellus, Lomonii, is a women's willow is one I'll give a shot to. I do have cut leaf, mountain mahogany, and suracarpus, but it really needs just excellent drainage. I'm not sure if we could do that, but other Pacific willow and on and on and on. And it goes through a wide array of just mind-numbingly extensive lists of plants that do really well.

And of course, you very quickly move out of very early spring to spring to mid-summer and, you know, it just goes on and on. Listeners, I can see all the post-it notes kind of going through that publication, which is very, very well thumbed through.

Speaker 2: I annotate all of these things, you know, because again, in the end, I'm coming back to plants that are unthought of a lot like Cedums. Wow. OK, that that's that's something we don't really pay a whole attention to in terms of, hey, it does flower and is and we have a load of different native Cedums as I've been on the list the other day. And I'm familiar with maybe two or three.

There must have been about eight or nine on this one list. You know, I'm going to jump to a moment and talk a little bit about native and Providence and ecoregion. That's a big deal. Yeah. But not for me because I'm not we're not doing restoration here. So when I say, yeah, I'm using a Pacific Northwest native, I mean, just that it could come from anywhere. A lot of the stuff I use actually comes from the Cascades or the other side of the Cascades. If I can provide and anybody can provide excellent drainage, they're usually going to make it through our winter. So I've gotten some crazy stuff to make it over here like some of the Artemisias from the the high desert region in eastern Oregon. I've had one persist for four or five years.

Fantastic. So you can look at it from the perspective of a purist, but I would recommend that you, especially those of us who are going to be living in very highly urbanized spaces be a little bit more flexible. And if you're doing restoration, yeah, you need to have the seed right from the area you're restoring.

That's the rule, more or less. But for those of us who are just trying to rejuvenate the landscape, not so much restore, definitely look at any native that'll make it in your region that's going to do service for pollinators. And again, you know, it's where I usually hit a stopping block with most of my purest native cohorts I have no problem using non-native flora. If it's going to fit the bill in terms of what our needs are in an urbanized environment, it's just simply not the same.

Speaker 1: And as you said, there's this isn't restoration. And we do want to bring more people along with us. We're trying to create something in the landscape that looks stunning, that includes a lot of native elements, but also a person drives by and they say, this, this looks gorgeous. I really want to have this on my property.

Speaker 2: You know, I think, I think you've hit on a very, very salient aspect of what we should all continue to be aware of. That is everything we're talking about is just one part of a very large industry. It's about a hundred, closing in probably on about 150 billion dollars a year. And that's the green industry, whether it's a nursery or a landscape company.

And we certainly don't want to alienate any element in that construct, but more so we want to show people how easy it is. We could, you know, we at your Spicata is a very common gay feather, very common plant, go already a choreopsis. All of these can be bought by anybody at any nursery come June.

And they're just great pollinator plants, you know, during that time of the year, what most of our pollinators probably have more than enough to access. But anyway, it's, it's, it's an opportunity to bring people into the larger conversation.

Speaker 1: Great. Well, let's take a break. And I want to get into, you talked about germination and kind of, you know, let's say somebody has like a little, you know, they want to do a fixer-upper. I'm sure there are lots of little things we can talk about. Got some good stories for you. All right. So we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. All right.

We're back with Al Shea. And he just told me that he could do this for hours. So it's going to be a long episode. So just hunker down there, dear listener. So, okay. One thing we talked about right before the break was this idea of being able to take people from where they are now to something that's more ecologically sustainable and, you know, how that's done.

So I want to talk more about these transitions of like, you know, somebody who's got an old English head or something and like how they can turn this into something more sustainable. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Our typical home landscapes are based around just, a few elements. You're going to have a fair amount of grass in there. And I have, you know, I managed turf for years. There's nothing wrong with that. But, you know, if you have more than you need, or if you stop and think, do I even need it at all? Do I have kids? Do I have a dog? Do I play badminton? Maybe I could just reduce it.

We're not talking about eliminating it but just reducing it. One really neat trick is to take a part of that turf and when a transition into a meadow, wow. So you can literally just stop, you know, you can cut a nice little piano curve as it's called in one end of it in the back, as this element will be taller than a mowed turf at two inches. And just let the grass grow and you can insert a wide array of different perennials that will do fine.

They wouldn't do fine. We tried to raise them from seed and a stand of grass, but if they're already in a four-inch pot, away you go. So now you've got a backdrop to your area of turf. And that's one aspect of the typical home landscape you can consider for really painless change. The other challenge we face is, you know, Ernest Markham Wilson, the greatest plant hunter of all time, brought back 3000 plants to Western horticulture, and his trips to discover all these plants and to find all these plants were to China. The Rhododendrons and Abelias and Maples, 3000 plants, incredible. But for a lot of these plants, they need some water because there is a lot of, a lot of that in Asia in the summertime.

Not so much so here in our, in our neck of the woods. So one way you can look at this is, well, what drought tolerant plants, herbaceous perennials, can I use to give myself a little bit of color and start to, to make a little bit of a shift? Now I think most people have been to a nursery to see a wide array of flowering perennials that might work well.

But again, Echinacea is a standard choreopsis, Gallardia, Leatris, and a slew of others. Find a spot, find a sunny spot. And I know this is an eighth of what most people want to do, but yank out some of those shrubs.

Okay. They came to us from China and let's look at plants. At least those are from the Midwest. If not, the Pacific Northwest can handle these conditions a little bit more comfortably.

Anytime you can integrate herbaceous perennials into a construct where you have evergreens, either coniferous or broadleaf, you're going to be doing better because what the term herbaceous means is they are not here in the wintertime. They're gone. They just disappear. And we don't want you to be looking at bear space.

We don't think bear space is the, or a vacuum is the best vision to aspire to in a landscape. So anytime you can mix and mingle, that works really well. And Donnie and I were talking about, well, what would somebody do with a long border, a classic English long border, where I already have plants in there. My comment to him was the vast majority of plants are either doing double or triple duty for us in terms of food, fuel, fiber, or medicine.

Not that you'd probably want to be doing any of those, but it's nice to know the options there. But again, for us, we want to be thinking about all the other four and we certainly ignore and it doesn't just have to be bees. It could be Ava fawn.

It could be hummingbirds. I mean, the perennial sunflowers are phenomenal. Think of that.

A much smaller head, but they're there every year. You know, may comes along and things start to emerge. You don't have to plant. You don't have to crank on the irrigation system. Oh, wouldn't that be exciting? Not to have to turn that on until we really need water. And that's usually not till the end of June. So lots of options there. I'm not going to dwell on those, but you could certainly start to integrate those elements into an existing landscape almost effortlessly.

And again, get online. I mean, if you were just to, you know, Google pollinator plants for the Pacific Northwest, you'd get one list after another. And I'm sure you'd find something that would fit your pocketbook and your palette in terms of color schemes, height, flowering time, and so forth. It's easy to do.

Speaker 1: Okay. So what I heard from you is that you can start small. You can take a little bit and you can make these subtle shifts. So it doesn't have to be like, you know, raise it to the ground and just kind of like change everything. But you can start to get your competency up and sort of make these shifts. And then, you know, over a period of time expand outwards.

Speaker 2: You know, you just reminded me of a story. A gal got a hold of me this past week. And she was curious about starting a pollinator garden. I said, Oh, well, that sounds great.

We're doing a lot of that here on campus. And then I asked her, well, how big an area did you have in mind? And she said she wanted to try an acre. Whoa. And exactly.

I said, whoa. You know, there are a couple of things we don't take into consideration right off the bat that in nature, there are an awful lot of controls that we typically can't utilize in the more diminutive urban landscape. Now this particular individual did have a farm or ranchette as it is and had some room. But my message to her was if you start trying to do a restoration slash rejuvenation project, you're going to have to be looking at being able to burn the site, use herbicides to remove unwanted vegetation, irrigate like crazy, push a lot of those seeds in the existing seed bank.

And for some of these species, it goes on for dozens and dozens of years, push them to germinate, spray them back out, and clean up that site as best as you can. And then go ahead and start using some of these ready-made mixes that are out there and away you go. Now as the conversation continued, I didn't want her to feel daunted. So my recommendation was just what you inferred a moment ago.

Well, it just starts small. Instead of doing 43,560 square feet, which is an acre, do two or 400 square feet and really take a peek at what is going on. You had the challenge we all faced and it took me a while to figure this out. And somebody made the obvious comment one time when I was trying to do a little restoration at the Oregon garden. We were right in the middle of grass seed growing country and it was just unbelievable.

Nothing would stay the same for even one season. And the comment made was, oh, it's easy to plant what you want. It's a lot more challenging to keep out what you don't want for the next 50 years. And unless you've got some sort of control, whether you're out there plucking things by hand or you're burning or you're spraying and all those things become incredibly challenging when you have a fairly comprehensive matrix of flora to deal with, yeah, start small.

Speaker 1: So it can compound like the maintenance. Just maybe your eye is on the establishment, but the maintenance is going to eat you up if you don't have a plan.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I would concur with that. And it's easy as summer goes on for us to start thinking of going on those hikes, going on those family vacations. As an early mentor in mind, reminded me continuously, that nature never takes a day off. Okay.

Speaker 1: Okay, so we are contending with nature with a capital N here. So think small, kind of plot your strategy out. And one of the things that we were talking about at the break, and you alluded to it earlier, was this whole issue of what about seeds? You know, seeds seem like a great way to start on your own. How do you, you know, I've struggled myself.

Speaker 2: What I was telling you is like, I got these native seeds and I plant them in the ground and it's like, where the heck did they go? Yeah. Yeah, that's great. And they're expensive. Some of these seeds are pricey. Well, my mixes are on between $140 and $150 a pound. So it's expensive. It's an investment.

You know, we'll just talk about it momentarily before we get to your thesis there. You know, you've got maybe 18 elements in a mix, 20 elements in a mix, 60% or perennial. The rest are annual, at least 30 or 40% and not going to be happy with where you plant them. Right. Right. Because we need, you know, the seed mixer as it were, needs to be able to accommodate a wide array of different possible situations.

So that creates some problems. One thing is going back to annuals, if you're not looking at bare soil, the seed is not going to germinate. Perennial seeds, need to be vernalized. That simply means they need to go, it's nature's way of making a seed not germinate in September. Right.

Okay. The seed is shed, it's on the ground. Hey, it feels pretty nice. Why can't I, you know, germinate right now? Well, winter's coming and that's not going to be...

Speaker 1: Listen, listen, listen, little spoke. Exactly.

Speaker 2: It's, you know, you don't know what you're in for. So it needs to go through a certain amount of chilling, okay, to get it to the point where it can germinate. So here we are. I'll just use our story several years ago and we're looking around campus and two things occur to us. One, we have no bare soil because all the areas on campus are covered with wood chips. Oh, that's great. But unless I have seeds of soil contact, I'm not going to get germination come spring.

But here's the other catch. Can the seeds even make it to spring? Now you have avifauna, birds, mice, and even rats. Let's face it, they are there. Whether it's my backyard or whether it's here on campus, they like to eat seeds. They're very high in protein.

Beetles even will be eating your seeds. Oh my goodness, what to do? So we thought and thought and thought about it. And I just had this epiphany at some point and I said, I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to load up four-inch pots in flats, you know, pack down the potting mix, and then we're going to spread our seed in those flats in September.

Then we're going to cover it with hardware cloth, weigh it down with bricks to keep the mice out and the birds out and we're going to see what happens. Well, it was amazing because probably 20% of that mix didn't need any fertilization at all. They sprouted immediately, which is kind of cool.

And you know, to see that happen and to realize, boy, I don't know if that would happen if I tried to plant it out in nature as it were right now. So really controlled approach. And then by the time March, or I'm sorry, February came by, it was just packed and moving. And that's an important message. Again, remember that all of our natives germinate early. They try to go through growth, and development, go to flower and go to seed as quickly as possible because they know probably by the end of June, the faucet is going to be turned off and life is going to be a little bit more challenging.

So it was just phenomenal to see that happen. Now we had this neat and discreet little packet as it were that we could plant. And you know, if you planted these four-inch pots and each one had a mix of elements in there it's not picture perfect. You'd really want them to be spread out a little bit farther away from each other under ideal circumstances, but that's okay. I could deal with the congestion and then we put them out maybe 12 inches, 18 inches apart from each other in March as early as you can. And the mind bore is some of these plants, Mattia elegans is one that I remember was up to my chest by the end of July. That's a pretty good turnaround from an inch container in one season.

Speaker 1: So yeah, lessons learned. So just I got to come up with you, but just for the listener. So you've done this already, you're going to do this. It's already seeded, but I could show you what we've done. Okay. So you're just going to broadcast on the surface there and tamp it down a little bit. Not even.

Speaker 2: I mean, just get any typical potting mix. I tend to go with organic mixes nowadays. So we're talking about some sphagnum moss, some peat moss, some pearlite, anywhere you can, even Home Depot cells, an organic version of that. And get them lined out, get your four-inch pots lined out in flats.

The ones I use are more rectangular than square. We get 18 pots per flat. Just fill it with a little bit of mix, do it at a bench so it's easy on the back and just tamp that down. That's it. Most seeds just need to be broadcast on the surface. And so you put this outside then. It has to be outside to go through that chilling period. Then we cover it very, very neatly with the hardware cloth or screen, whatever's handy. Oh, so the critters don't get in. Oh yeah. And then we weigh the edges down with bricks and we've had some pretty good results.

And you'll see about, you know, a small percentage of that mix will germinate immediately because they don't need to be virtualized. And then again, by February, you were ready to go. Ah, it's so slick. And what I really enjoy about that process is that there's not a whole lot else going on in March. You can muster an awful lot of troops to get these plants in the ground while it's still cool and wet and they take off every sunny day in March and April.

I mean, by the time May rolls around, they're up or above knee height already and ready to put on a show. That is so cool. It is. It is one of the more intelligent things I came up with over the years, I guess.

Speaker 1: Is there a mix that you like to use?

Speaker 2: There are. I've got a tough and tenacious mix. This is Wonderland. The wind is from Heritage seedlings. The first one we used was disturbed ground mix. And, you know, once you start looking at these, you'll see that there is a cadre. There's a group of cohorts that are in every single mix. And there, they, some peripherals tend to vary a little bit depending upon which mix you order.

But that still wasn't enough. So we went back to non-native elements and then I'll augment that with liners. They're, they're two-inch pots. I can buy wholesale of, let's say a buckwheat or one of our native Asters.

And then we plug them in also or with Linda. I mean, I'm trying to push monarch butterflies here. So, you know, it could be a little dicey to get that milkweed, a Scalepius VCO to germinate. And again, I'm lazy. So, you know, she sells.

Speaker 1: That's a constant complaint is that people can't get it to germinate. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So she sells rooted crowns for 95 cents apiece. Once you get it in the ground, there's a plant that if you plant one by next year, it'll increase three to fourfold. And that's my advice to folks not to plant a lot of them in the same place but spread them out. So I'll have a hundred Scalepius come February delivered to my door for $95 plus shipping. And that is a tremendous investment because it just goes year after year after year. And then you can divide up your clumps as time goes on. Call it a crown. Yeah, it's just just a crown. It's right at the surface.

Okay. That'd be the portion of the plant that's emanating out of the surface. The crown, you know, I'm learning. I'm learning. That's okay. I'm learning from you too. I mean, I'm not an entomologist by any stretch of the imagination. So I think it's a good combination here.

Speaker 1: The last question before we take another break is why do you like the native buckwheat so much? You've been on me about them.

Speaker 2: Well, look, again, it's just one of those pleasant surprises. I asked Mike Riddle out at Seven Oaks, Hey, I need something a little different for pollinators. What do you have? And this is a couple of years ago and we got some buckwheat out of California. Can't remember the common name.

It's it's eryogonium fasciculatum. And we planted them out, not, you know, with a bunch of other natives, more interesting than usual native plant flower that he suggested. And oh my gosh, by the middle of summer, it's like the native bees. Honeybees, bumblebees. It's like they were doing, you know, a circle around the plant waiting to turn to get in.

It was it really was incredible. So I've had a hard time finding the fasciculatum, but he does have a sulfur buckwheat as well. We've been trying it now yet another one.

So maybe I've got to order these even earlier than I have in the past. But super drought tolerant, zero water, zero fertilizer, impeccable drainage. And and as the plant starts to grow out, it's a mounting plant, you need to root some of it. Just bury it in the ground, pin it down, and let it root. Because without a doubt, the mother plant will die at some point. But where it's ever it's rooted. What I didn't get was what you just said, rooted. Yeah.

What do you do? Well, here, you know, just imagine a mounting plant, right, spreading out about two to three feet. OK. As these, the out-of-growth hits the ground.

Yeah. Dig a little trench with a trowel or a horry-hurry. Place it in there. And I'll just use old pieces of hanger or, you know, big staples, whatever, and make and force it into that little hole, cover up with soil, and let it take off.

Really. So it's still receiving nourishment from the mother plant, but it will start to root, and then away you go. And wherever it's rooted, don't ask me why it persists. But the old mother plant will just fade out. So it's something to be aware of. And that's just what happened to us last year. And I've got that replanted and looking pretty good now. But these are the things you just simply figure out as you as you go through it.

Speaker 1: I mean, there's so many in a real dry spot.

Speaker 2: Super dry. Yeah. We're all with the cactuses. Yes. It's it's it's in that same sloping south-facing area. And we don't do anything to it. I will water in. I'm again, thinking here while I'm talking, we planted several different pentamons because I just want to keep an eye on some of our native pentamons and we watered them in.

Now, it happens at times when folks don't quite make the connection. Every plant put in the ground, whether it's native or non-native, needs to be watered for the first year. Native plants do not emanate from the ground six inches to two feet tall. That's not how they emerge. So if you're not watering them at least every two weeks, that first summer, it's taken it.

You're taking a real chance. And I've had more than one call from folks really upset that their native plants have died especially when they're trees like ponderosa pine or native oak. And then then comes the question, well, did you water them?

And then comes the silence. Water them. They're native. Well, yeah, but they don't germinate two feet tall with an extensive fruit system. So that's just a word of caution.

But then back off by all means by year two, certainly by year three, you know, if you want to go that route, when you don't want to use all super dry tower natives, no water, no fertilizer keeps them happy.

Speaker 1: Really happy. All right. Let's take a break. And we have these questions that we ask all our guests. We want to ask you. Oh gosh, here it comes. You love the question. Okay. All right. We'll be back in a second.

We've just been sitting here idly during the break, not talking about very much. Yeah. All right. We've got these three questions.

We ask all our guests these three questions. The first one is, and I'm really looking forward to this. At some point, there's going to be this really first question is like, do you have a book that you recommend? And I had some great book suggestions of actual things I'd never, ever, ever heard of. And I see you brought books here to the show.

Speaker 2: Yeah. These are the three I'm probably using again. You know, part of my graduate studies were in entomology, but really, I'm definitely come I'm lagging to put a mild and bringing up the rear. But, you know, as time allows, I do try to crack books open. These are just three.

I've got about five or six. So attracting native bees by the Jersey society. Everybody's got to own that book. Recommended by many on the show. It's a great book. It's great. And then California bees and blooms. I really enjoy that. They've done a lot of studies down in the Berkeley area as to which pollinator likes what plants and a lot of their, you know, non-native flora, as well as some of their native flora, does just perfectly fine here in the Lamb and Valley.

Speaker 1: So it's a great book, too, because it's really based, you know, on a solid set of research they've done in California. So you flip it open and even like the bee descriptions, these are these, you know, Gordon Frankie and Robin Thorpe. Yeah. These are like big names. Big names. So it's a great book. What's the third book you have there?

Speaker 2: I've never heard of that one. The Bee Garden by Maureen Little. It is number three. I mean, it's interesting, but I wouldn't make that my first purchase. You know, a lot of big pictures of flowers. Yeah, great pictures. And that's definitely something that for non-horticultural people is always a good sell. Get them acquainted with what that's going to look like. I think it's an okay job, but the other two, attracting native pollinators in California, bees, and blooms would definitely be my number one and number two.

Speaker 1: Okay, great. Well, we'll get listeners. We'll have those linked up on the website so you can see them. The next thing we ask our guests is, is there a tool for the kind of work that you do? It's like your go-to tool you really could not do without it.

Speaker 2: Well, you know, for a person like myself who's always managing plants, I mean, today I had to hack some plants out of my way to park my truck. And I will proceed to remove that unwanted element for facilities here with my student's help tomorrow.

Okay. But I'm always wrong with my folding, you know, Ares, handsaw, and my Foco hand shears. They're right in his hands right now, guests. Yeah, well, they're just in my hand. Well, it will get into me that time of year. I teach landscape maintenance in the winter term. So, okay.

Speaker 1: So tell us what makes a good saw and a good shear.

Speaker 2: Well, I will. I don't want to get hung up with them because it's a better tool for what we're talking about. Well, you know, in the old days, a saw blade really had two edges. And you had to sharpen them quite a bit. And then you had to set the teeth. And that means that you bring it into a sawyer. And he would have a tool that would bend the tooth one way and bend the tooth another way. So you now stop and think, wait a minute, I'm trying to cut O.M.

The amount of friction created by that would just make you scream horribly. And then several years ago, Ares blades became better known in this country. They're from Japan, you know, where the samurai steel history originated, of course. And I don't know why Andoni looked down on this. So first of all, you see no set. Yeah, it's just straight. The teeth are all in line. Yeah, it's straight. And then if you look at it closely, you'll see not only the two standard edges, but there's a third edge right on the very tip of the saw blade.

You're joking. So it cuts only on the pulse stroke. And when you're done, if you do have a saw like this, you go out and get one. Be very, very careful. The first time I started cutting with this, I took a chunk of my thumb off. But when you're done providing you don't do that, it's a surgical quality cut. It's so smooth, it feels like glass. Wow. This reminds me of the bigger issue, no matter what tool you're talking about is buy quality.

Don't look for a lowball. This Falcon, the number eight Falco that I have is probably, I'm guessing somewhere between a 50 and $60 tool. But, you know, if my children wanted to hand that off to my grandchildren, it would still be functional.

There's no argument or doubt in my mind about it. I've had some of these Falcos for 25 years. Every part on it is replaceable, break the whole thing apart, clean it, and put it back together over and over and over again. So yeah, that may seem like a lot of money, but if you're going to be doing this, something, you should invest it. And if you're going to be cutting back perennials, some of the ARS hand-shires from Japan are tiny, they're easy to grasp and do a just tremendous job on perennials. I would never use what I'm holding in my hand on a perennial.

This is just my rock-solid soldier version. My battle heart and Velcos, but I don't keep them sharp enough to be cutting stems under basis elements. But getting back to working in the garden, a Hori Hori is a great tool. A Hori Hori. A Hori Hori. And it's a Japanese knife, more or less.

I should have brought one in with me. And it does a great job of just digging, digging things out, weeding some of the models. The one I have has a serrated edge.

So if the root is a little too thick or the plant is, that too extensive a tap, you just cut it off. And it's a prodigious little tool about that big. The legend goes that in the days of the samurai, no one was allowed to be armed except the samurai. Of course, right? So what could the humble gardener do if push came to shove? Well, they devised this tool ostensibly for weeding. But they got pretty good at throwing it. And yeah, it would take somebody out pretty quickly.

Speaker 1: They call that a loophole.

Speaker 2: Okay, I like that. Anyway, we get the benefit from that tool. And the other one I hardly see anymore, and you certainly don't want to buy an American version of this, is a spading fork. And that's the one that has tines on it or big teeth, however, you want to look at that. And I'd recommend the ones that are square, not the typical ones we see here hanging on the racks at big box stores.

They're flat and that doesn't do much. So Bulldog from England is still, they are still cranking out tools 250 years later. And that's the one I have. I've had it for 30 years and it's indestructible.

Speaker 1: So it's a Bulldog square tined spading fork.

Speaker 2: Tined spading fork. I will look that up on Google after.

Speaker 2: The old days, Smith and Hawkins, I'm not even sure what they're up to anymore. They're probably selling more teak furniture than tools. But they were the go-to folks for some of these unusual tools. And I'm sure there are French companies and Swiss companies and certainly German companies that are making these tools as well. It's just what can you find here? Mail order, I guess would be the challenge. And I shouldn't be saying that anything's possible on Amazon now, is it?

Speaker 1: I have yet to not find something. All right. My last question is, can we interpret this as broadly as you want, but a pollinator that when you see, when you're at work and you're like, oh, that is a magnificent little creature?

Speaker 2: You know, I was thumbing through the Bees and Blooms earlier and I saw so many of them. But the one I continually come back to, well, before I say that, which be it is, the larval stage of soldier flying is doing double duty in my compost bins right now. They're just voracious. They're this kind of little armored, flat-looking larvae.

And I've just come to love them because they devour anything you put in there. Really? Pretty darn quickly.

Wow. And essentially, when it comes to bees, I would, you know, from the first course I took, it was exposed to our native bees. It was the sweat bees in the Hulcidees, some of the iridescent ones. I'm going to try this genus name. I can paste them. Oh, dog, big time. We get up top. Yeah.

Speaker 1: We had a show with this person who's like, one of the biggest impediments to getting into the bee stuff is the pronunciation of these big words. It's just like the way that we kind of like keep people in order.

Speaker 2: Well, I kind of chuckled to my wife that I thought, you know, by no nomenclature is crazy in horticulture, but I don't think we've got anything on it, demologists at all.

Speaker 1: Oh, they're beautiful. And I noticed the last bee I saw, I got busy, but the last bee I saw, out of those asters were agapostomans, the males. Wow.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Well, here's, you know, this past Saturday was a wonderful day. And whether it's, you know, we do get days like this in late October, sometimes in early November, but a change is coming from what I see now in the weather. And my God, the flurry of insects out there inside was nuts. And here comes what I thought was an elliptic of some sort, metallic.

And he's just, she is just walking over one of my lounge chairs. And the only thing I could think of is it was still perceiving salt from perspiration. Oh, that's kind of gross. Well, I don't care. I couldn't care less, but I couldn't understand it. It was just on that. Going back and forth, its intent is moving. I just couldn't figure out where it was going.

Speaker 1: Man, where's my coffee? I'm going to sit here and watch the last.

Speaker 2: We did for quite a while. It was great. It was great.

Speaker 1: That's great. And the one thing that, you know, we did not talk about at all is these, what you've been really great at. Mike Birgette told me, it

Speaker 2: started, you know, I had a student work on this one. Oh, yeah, yeah. I was, but you've got these pollinator houses all across campus and now off of campus. Yeah. Well, Doug Vodaburg, whose brainchild this was, along with Professor Meredith, and Dr. Michael Birgitt, is coming back. He's going to visit.

Oh, right. He'll be here Thursday and Friday. So we'll pop it and say hello. Oh, that's awesome. And it was part of Doug's graduate studies. Part of that he was in the same program.

I was a master's in a program and part of it was entomology. And I don't know how he got wind of this, but he's just sort of, you know, along with Mike, built this sort of construct. It's got this open-frame structure with a peaked roof on it. And Mike is quite the carpenter. So the first model, it's pretty ornate and just monstrously large, I might add.

And it is the one sitting in the horticulture garden here on campus. And, you know, at the time, it was really funny because it was only about four years ago. Really?

Really. You're not going to. And, you know, so I'd get on and I would try to, you know, just punch in pollinator domicile or pollinator hotel. And you might find two sites from Germany where this was, this was a happening thing already. Right.

And we're a holy cow. So anyway, long story short, I glommed on to that about three or four years ago and we downsized the product. I teach a sustainable landscape construction class each spring. At the same time, I happened to get a volunteer who became an employee, one of my biotechs, Nick Cavagnaro. He's an incredibly talented carpenter. So he leads the labs and we knock out a couple of these every year.

Well, guess what? We've got about 10 of these now, not only on campus, but in the great of Carvalho's community as well. And that's a real big push for me is to integrate what we're doing on campus with the community because there's always this tendency for, you know, in a college town for the college to be isolated from the community at large. So it's really something that I've tried to make inclusive and it's really coming along wonderfully.

And, as you know, we've been putting him in here and there. Now, once you get to sort of open-airy construct with the peak roof and shingles on it, which looks really neat and really makes it sellable, then what do you do? We need to put in the little residences for our native pollinators. And what we did initially is just start drilling holes in anything but cedar, okay? Something that resembles the borehole of some beetle in a tree because where else are these insects typically going?

That is the 20% that are cavity nesters as opposed to 80% that are ground nesters. And, you know, we figured out a lot of things along the way. You certainly helped in that regard in terms of the depth and I think we're doing 332nd and 316th inch holes right now solely. And we're drilling in blocks of old dug firs while we try to find. So we're always keeping our eyes open of people's firewood piles and, you know, asking them, can we have this dug for? And along the same note, firewood's great.

You know, if it's a species like oak or like fir that you could drill into, I'd probably stay away from fir oak or other hardwoods. That's great because then it adds a little bit of interest.

Speaker 1: It looks good. Yeah. Again, we've got to make it. I'm not going to use that word. We've got to make it look appealing. Okay. I'll let you guys figure out what I'm talking about here but really get people jazzed about what we're doing. And to that end, we're also using the stems of teasel, and blackberry, and then Andoni included me into, hey, you should try Spyrea. So we're getting.

Yeah. We're getting them and we're tying them up and you could be artistic and you could throw pine cones in or the teasel fruits or whatever you want, seed heads rather, whatever you want to make it appealing. And the funny thing is, you know, one thing I have to share is what really got me going on this is we did a little makeshift sort of mini bee hotel out at Oak Creek, my research facility here on 35th Street at the edge of campus.

And I'm telling you, in the middle of July, we're on either side of a table right now. And with that construct in between, it looked like somebody had a fire, a garden hose on, a fine spray. There was that much activity and it just blew my socks off. And that's when I said, we have got to do more of these.

So I do have to make a public admission here. Iris is in the back. Iris Corman, who works in labs, she does all the stunning graphics here. So Al told me, you know, oh, I've got these locks. And I'd heard, I'd read out of the, you know, the Ph.D.'s book of like how to do things that you should not use these blocks of wood. I didn't know how to bring this up.

Cleaning them out, you know, you can't clean them. And I mentioned this to Dr. Corman back here and she said, yeah, I actually think he's right. I said, no, no, no, it's not what the PhD textbook in psychopedia says. And I have to say it. You know, you've been using those blocks for a couple of years in a row and the diversity is high. I was out there. I had to eat my words when I was just like, holy smokes, you've got every known critter going in and out of here. Every block got full up and it looked pretty healthy to me. Yeah.

Speaker 2: And you know, to extend beyond that, I'm not, I'm not sure what to do next. And maybe we redrill some of the sealed plugs, maybe in that narrow window, when between when they emerge and start to load up again to clean them out, we've never done anything. So I'm not sure what you think makes the most, I mean, for the time being, as you and I have talked, we'll keep going with these blocks of wood. But yeah, in time, we'll see, what makes sense.

Speaker 1: Well, you know, I think one thing I got out of this show, and I think the listeners will get out of the show is like, it is about part of this. And what we try to impress us on the show is that we really don't know that much about beat biology. Like there's a lot of guesswork out there. And I think the really great thing about this show is this, you know, you got to start, you got to innovate, you got to try things out and not overextend yourself. And then you get some really great combinations happening.

Speaker 2: Well, I think the insects are helping us out like you and I have quipped, you know, where the heck were all these creatures before we got these gardens in? They were surviving somehow. But boy, I think they're having it a little bit easier now with a lot of these gardens on campus.

Speaker 1: Well, thanks so much for dropping in. We're definitely going to have you back here as time permits for you.

Speaker 2: Anytime. It was a lot of fun. Thanks, Anthony.

Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that can be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at pollinationpodcast at organstate.edu. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

Al Shay is currently an instructor in the Horticulture Department at Oregon State University. Al holds undergraduate degrees in art as well as horticulture. Additionally Al has a Masters in Agriculture degree from OSU. Al has been in the “Green Industry” for 38 years; 27 of which were spent in the field managing landscapes at such varied venues as; Oregon State University, Eugene Country Club, The Oregon Garden and DeSantis landscapes. In 2007 Al returned to OSU for his graduate degree and was appointed an instructor upon his graduation in 2010.

Find out more about what you can do for pollinators at your own home, and how Al blends aesthetic and functional aspects of landscaping and pollinator habitats.

You can Subscribe and Listen to PolliNation on Apple Podcasts.

And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

“It seemed just a horrible shame to have 500-odd acres of space here on campus and have it all strictly geared toward something you look at as you pass by. We could do a better job than that.“ – Al Shay

Show Notes:

  • How Al’s career led him to his work at Oregon State University
  • The difficulties of bridging the functional and aesthetic sides of urban landscapes
  • The way Al keeps flowering plants year round
  • How homeowners can turn their property into a more sustainable ecosystem
  • Why Al recommends you should start small with your own landscape
  • What you should consider before working on your own urban landscape
  • Al’s best practices for how to plant your seeds
  • What makes a good saw and shear for Al
  • Al’s “pollinator hotels” and how they were developed

“Just start small. Instead of doing 43,560 square feet, do 200 or 400 square feet, and really take a peek at what is going on.“ – Al Shay

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