Giving pollinators the right of way

OSU Mansfield teams with First Energy to create educational space

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First Energy teamed up with OSU Mansfield to incorporate a Monarch Right of Way project under an existing utility right of way on campus. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

MANSFIELD, Ohio — Orchards, vegetable growers and many other producers need pollinators to help their plants thrive. But in recent years, the U.S. has experienced a significant drop in pollinators from honeybees to Monarch butterflies.

“Right now we are seeing a decline of pollinators, including monarch butterflies and honey bees,” said Marne Titchenell, wildlife program specialist at Ohio State University. “Ohio has seen a 50 percent decline in Monarch population.”

The Monarch Right of Way: A pollinator demonstration plot, will show landowners how they can turn unused plots of land into attractive spaces and help the pollinator population. (Catie Noyes photos)
The Monarch Right of Way: A pollinator demonstration plot, will show landowners how they can turn unused plots of land into attractive spaces and help the pollinator population. (Catie Noyes photos)

In an effort to combat a steady decrease in pollinator populations, Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus is implementing a Monarch Right of Way, pollinator demonstration plot, right in the heart of campus.

“We want these plots to attract the community programs and arborists,” said Denise Ellsworth, program director, Honey Bee and Native Pollinator Education at Ohio State University. “We want people to come and learn as we learn.”

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The project is a collaborative effort between Ohio State Extension, First Energy, Ohio Prairie Nursery, Arnold’s Landscaping and Davey Tree. The plot, a quarter of an acre of land, sits under First Energy utility lines that cut across campus.

Planning the plot

Planning and conversations about what could be done with the space have been going on for a couple of years. The idea for the plot itself was introduced by First Energy, explained Titchenell. “First Energy was looking for different ideas to offer landowners who have electrical right of ways on their property,” she said.

The ground below an electrical right of way has minimal options for what can be planted there. The lower growing plants of the pollinator plot will only reach a maximum of six feet, making them a good option for the plot.

Using the right of ways on the Ohio State Mansfield campus tied in well with the campus getting ready to launch a new environmental program next fall explained Brian White, project manager at Ohio State Mansfield. “It will be part of an Ecolab that promotes environmental and ecological research and outreach. It’s the first partnership under the Ecolab to do a research plot.”

Marne Titchenell, wildlife program specialist at OSU, John Makley, Arnold’s Landscaping, and Brian White, project manager for OSU Mansfield, rake remaining grass and weeds from plots that were killed down with herbicide to make way for a frost seeding in early December. The native plant seeds that will be spread will attract native pollinators to the area as a part of the Monarch Right of Way Project.
Marne Titchenell, wildlife program specialist at OSU, John Makley, Arnold’s Landscaping, and Brian White, project manager for OSU Mansfield, rake remaining grass and weeds from plots that were killed down with herbicide to make way for a frost seeding in early December.

Preparing the plot

In order to get the area ready for planting, herbicides were applied to the ground to kill grass and weeds in different patches where the plants would be growing. The team had planned to begin frost seeding in November, but Ohio’s unnaturally warm and wet weather late in the season set the planting back.

In early December, volunteers seeded the plots with a variety of seed mixes donated by Ohio Prairie Nursery. Seed mixes included a Rain Garden mix, Eastern Great Lakes Native Pollinator Mix and Fall Pollinator Fuel mix. Titchenell said, they did not alter any of the mixes, so if anyone wanted to replicate what they see in the garden, they could look up the mix and get the exact same seeding.

Frost seeding is a common way to seed native flowers and grasses, explained Titchenell. After clearing the herbicide treated ground of any remaining grass and weeds, seeds were spread out over the plots using drop seeders. “Then we cross our fingers and walk away until spring,” said Titchenell. As the ground naturally freezes and thaws over the winter months, the seeds will work their way into the ground.

Three varieties of seed mixes filled with native grasses and pollinator plants were dispersed over the pollinator plots.
Three varieties of seed mixes filled with native grasses and pollinator plants were dispersed over the pollinator plots.

How it will look

What looks like a plot of dead, brown oblong shapes now, will soon be filled with blooming native flowers and colorful grasses and shrubs. Flowers like Echinacea, purple clover, Asters, goldenrod, purple coneflower and more will bloom at different times throughout the year.

“We won’t see the full potential of the plot for a couple years,” she explained, some of the native flowering and nectaring plants take time to establish a root system. “But we should see some cool season grasses coming up in the spring.”

Titchenell and her team envision the area to be a place where both students and the community can come to learn more about the pollinators in our area. Signs will be stationed at each plot to describe what is growing there and what kinds of pollinators it attracts.

“It’s going to be a really beautiful plot and homeowners can take an eight of these plots and create something at their own homes,” said Titchenell. “Once (a plot) is established it is easy to maintain.”

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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture. Formerly a reporter for the Farm and Dairy, Catie is now pursuing her master's degree in education.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good to see some care taken for the pollinators.

    “Frost” seeding–that’s a new one on me. Sure hope it works! At my place on the Ashland/Richland County line, gosh, the chickadees, nuthatches, and chipmunks would consider all that seed laying on the ground a tasty Holiday treat!

    Plus, I sure do hope some of the “backyard” or weekend farmers get wise and start getting serious about calibrating their equipment to apply pesticides, herbicides, and the like that they use. I’ve seen too many of these cowboys over-drench their places with these potions under the idea “if an application of “x” on the label is recommended, why then “2X” is even better. NOT!

    Rarely have I seen true farmers be so cavalier.

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