If you have dreams of beautiful butterflies flitting about your yard, or visions of friendly bees bumbling among the flowers, then you can be a gardener who creates an inviting space for pollinators. And not just for a few!
Did you know that pollinators come in many forms, not just the superstar bees and beloved butterflies? Yes, moths, beetles, wasps, ants and flies, and birds and bats also play an important role!
If you’ve been curious about creating a pollinator-friendly garden area into your space, whether big or small, here are a few easy, basic tips to consider:
- Provide sources of food, water, and shelter.
- Maintain natural habitat. Protect existing natural areas & green spaces by leaving wild or un-manicured areas.
- Go organic. It doesn’t mean ignoring your garden nor letting everything grow wild. It’s actually more work, not less, to sustain an organic environment rather than a synthetic chemical one.
- Rethink your definition of “weeds”. Many are beneficial plants favored by pollinators & herbalists alike! As an example, I had always hated the ground ivy (aka Creeping Charlie) slowly spreading in my backyard,until one year I noticed the bees feasting on the blanket of flowers budding from it. And I realized that this “weed” was a critical source of early spring food for them. I now no longer view the ground ivy as my foe, although I still try to keep it under control. Since then I’ve also learned its herbal, medicinal value too!
- Choose native/regional perennials and self-seeding annuals. Plants & their pollinators are adapted to local environmental conditions and habitat. Think how people get accustomed to a hot or cold climate, for example).
- Avoid non-native plants, hybridized (fancy) plants, GMO seeds and invasive species.
- Keep your landscape similar to the natural ecosystem of your area. For example, if your yard is dry and sunny, avoid planting things that require shade and frequent watering.
- In the fall, leave your garden “messy”. By letting things die back and stay in place through winter, you’ll be providing habitat for hungry birds to forage seeds and desired shelter for hibernating insects. If you absolutely have to tidy things up, gather up and leave the garden or yard waste in an out-of-the-way pile until late spring or early summer, giving the dormant insects or egg sacs time to re-emerge or hatch.This will still allow a pollinator-friendly habitat through the winter months.
- For a complete pollinator garden, incorporate plants that nourish pollinators through each growing phase..For example, I grow fennel & parsley & dill for Swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs on. This way the eggs hatch, the tiny larvae eat the green fronds and grow into fat caterpillars, then they turn into butterflies & feed themselves on my zinnias blooms. Their life cycle continues!
Select a variety of native plants that flower at different times throughout the growing season.
When one kind finished blooming, another kind is just beginning to bloom. This provides insects with a succession of food sources for months.
- Offer native plants that flower in various colors & a variety of flower shapes. Remember that most hybrids & “doubled” petal flowers offer very little nourishment for pollinators, only traces of nectar & pollen. I still grow a few for my own enjoyment, although they do not count for pollinators.
- Plant large swaths of each kind of flowers/plants rather than small clusters or single plants interspersed around your property. It allows pollinators to gorge themselves easily without expending a lot of precious energy flitting about to find additional sources of nectar.
- Remember to provide a water source. Bird baths, a shallow dish of wet sand, or a tended water feature, for example.
- Butterflies love rotting fruit with a touch of sea salt!
- Hang a Hummingbird feeder & make them sugar water. Briefly boil 4 parts water with 1 part white sugar, cool before use. It's easy and is a better option than the store bought versions that use red dye.
- Consider adding a bee house or an insect hotel to your garden. You might also let a log naturally decompose for even more habitat options - solitary bees love it!There are so many choices of plants and flowers that you can grow to attract and sustain the life cycle of pollinating insects! Below is a partial list of some of my garden plants that especially seem to be favorites among pollinators in my area:
- Butterfly Weed
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
- Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
- Bee Balm (Wild Bergamot)
- Lemon Mint
- Milkweed (for Monarchs)
- Joe Pye Weed
- Black-eyed Susan
- Anise Hyssop
- Tulsi (Holy Basil)
- Borage (bees go bonkers for it!)
Yes it’s a long list, haha, because I jumped all in for this type of gardening! But don’t be intimidated because you can start by planting even just two different types of plants, in patio pots even! Try planting Dill and Zinnias together. You’ll be surprised who visits them, because if you plant it they will come!
Part 2 of this blog will be coming soon and will explore tips for an organically-grown garden, my story of raising Monarchs, and more pollinator-friendly garden ideas. Always be growing friends!