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Small Gardens Big Change

Small Gardens Big Change

Small Gardens, Big Change is a new initiative launched in June 2020 to create the tools that are needed to transform Boulder's landscaping to protect and conserve pollinators. 

The Problem

One of the most challenging issues of our time is the precipitous decline of insects, particularly pollinators that over 80% of the world's plants rely on for reproduction. Climate change and biodiversity loss are interrelated crises that can seem overwhelming. But an often overlooked approach to change this trajectory is to grow native plants, particularly in cities and urban areas, that can serve as refuges to protect pollinator populations as well as provide migration routes for insects and animals on the go as climate change alters habitats and animals seek cooler areas that are higher in elevation and further north. The city is currently working with multiple partners to develop a long-term plan for the creation of pollinator habitat and connected pathways. One of the biggest challenges is the generation of the hundreds of thousands of native plants that will be necessary to create hundreds of acres of new pollinator habitat, particularly during a time of economic downturns and limited resources. 

The Solution

Different individuals and organizations are growing local native plants to collect seed. During the pilot program that is currently underway, approximately 100 older adults who are self-isolating to protect themselves from COVID-19 are germinating two flats of seeds in their homes. Each flat has 72 plugs, so each senior is growing 148 seedlings, which could produce up to 14,800 seedings. In the fall, community groups will be asked to help plant these seedlings in designated pollinator hubs and corridor sites to expand pollinator habitat. Think how many plants we could grow as a city if hundreds of schools and families join this effort! 

This pilot is being expanded during 2021 to plant more seeds and grow out more plants to install in pollinator hubs and corridors. Stay tuned for more details and how you can get involved!

How to Help

Volunteer. The city is recruiting individuals with gardening or horticultural experience to serve as partners/grow buddies for older adults participating in Small Gardens, Big Change. You do not need to be an expert to help--horticulturists from Colorado State University Extension and the Butterfly Pavilion will provide guidance throughout the process. Volunteers will make virtual contact with the older adult participants and assist them with ongoing communication and engagement until the fall, when the seedlings will be collected and installed in pollinator hubs by other groups and organizations. The time commitment is variable depending on how often participants would like to be contacted (no more than once a week) and how many participants that the volunteer would like to support.

Join this movement by transforming your own yard into pollinator habitat. Take the 10% challenge and transition 10% of your yard to a pollinator garden. Visit for resources and plant lists. Please consider transitioning your yard to organic lawn care to protect pollinators, your pets and your family. Learn how with the city's new step-by-step organic lawn care guide.

More information will be posted in the fall about how you can get involved as Small Gardens Big Change expands the program. Learn about the current pilot program here.  

Here are the species currently being grown during the pilot initiative and some brief instructions for their care:

Gaillardia aristata – Blanketflower 
Daisy-like flowers with reddish centers and golden rays, about 1-2’ tall, blooms from summer-fall
Attracts wide variety of native bees and butterflies
Plant seeds about 1/8” deep

Heterotheca villosa  - Hairy golden aster
Small daisy-like flowers with yellow centers and yellow rays, less than 1’ tall, blooms in summer
Attracts native bees, butterflies and pollinating flies
Barely cover seeds

Koeleria macrantha - Junegrass
Clump-forming grass with attractive seedheads, 1-2’ tall
Attracts birds, nesting material for native bees, host plant for skippers
Barely cover seeds

Monarda fistulosa – Bee Balm
Clusters of pink tubular flowers on tall square stems, 2-3’ tall, blooms in summer
Attracts bumblebees, large butterflies and hummingbirds
Barely cover seeds

Ratibida columnifera – Prairie coneflower
Cone-shaped disc with golden or red drooping petals, about 1-2’ tall, blooms from summer-fall
Attracts wide variety of native bees and butterflies
Plant seeds about 1/8” deep

Schizachyrium scoparium – Little bluestem
Fine-textured grass with blue-green foliage turns to rusty red in fall, 2-3’ tall
Attracts birds, butterflies
Barely cover seeds

Sporobolus airoides – Alkali dropseed
Upstanding grass with attractive seedheads, 1-2’ tall
Nesting material for native bees, host plant for skippers
Barely cover seeds