Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, flies, and even bats are some of our most important pollinators. As they visit different plant species, collecting nectar and pollen to provide nutrition for their offspring, they provide important services to both plants and humans.
Flowering plants complete their life cycle, producing seeds and fruits with the help of these important visitors. To encourage their feeling at ‘home’, we can create a habitat to support them, offering their preferred food, water, shelter and space.
Some important things to consider include:
Creating season-wide food sources targeted to your pollinators
Provide nutrition throughout the season by planting flowers that bloom from early spring through fall. Consider perennial and annual flowers with different colors, shapes and sizes, including ones with tubular or bell shapes, in addition to flat surfaces to attract the widest variety of pollinators. Local plants (the natives), match the needs of nearby pollinators. Many of the double hybrid flowers have pollen, nectar, and even scent bred out of them and are not as attractive to local pollinators.
Plant in clumps, rather than individual plants to make it easier for pollinators to find their food source. Planting several varieties of milkweed will provide treasured habitat and food source for the endangered Monarch butterfly. Many commercial agriculture operations use genetically engineered crops, virtually eliminating large stands of milkweed that were previously available for these beautiful butterflies. Simple strategies like planting parsley and allowing it to flower will provide habitat for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Consider utilizing trees, native ornamental grasses, and groundcovers which all offer nesting, resting and shade benefits for a pollinator habitat.
Eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
The over usage of chemicals has contributed to the decline of pollinators, with systemic insecticides that are absorbed within plant tissue being most dangerous. The number one threat to pollinators is ‘neonicotinoid’ or ‘neonic’ pesticides. Not only are they most toxic to bees, butterflies, and other insects, but they’re systemic. When applied, these poisons make their way throughout the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar. Provide a safe haven in your habitat by practicing ‘regenerative gardening,’ using the basic principles of organic gardening and sustainability.
Instead of chemical fertilizers that can pollute our water supply, use compost to provide a season-wide supply of major and minor nutrients. Compost-enriched soils promote deeply rooted plants that use water more efficiently, feed soil microorganisms, and ultimately lead to healthy soil, healthy food (and pollinators) and healthy people.
Cover the soil with mulches and cover crops
Use straw, alfalfa, and cover crops such as buckwheat or crimson clover to provide a blanket to cover and protect the soil. As cover crops begin to flower, they are highly attractive to pollinators for nectar and pollen and, additionally, provide areas for shelter. Diverse heights and seasonal plantings of cover crops offer appropriate homes for beneficial insects.
Create nesting sites
A garden that is ‘overly neat’ is not as attractive to pollinators as one that respects the nesting and shelter needs of its visitors.
Pollinators such as ‘ground bees’ need access to the soil surface as they excavate nest tunnels in sunny patches of bare ground. Grassy patches provide nesting for bumblebees and other insects to overwinter. Many native bees use abandoned beetle tunnels in logs, stumps, and branches and even chew out the centers of dead raspberry canes to establish nests.
Provide water sources
Shallow birdbaths filled with small pebbles or rocks help to provide ‘landing spaces’ for small bees to gain a needed source of water.
Be sure to empty and refill these frequently to prevent stagnant water, which attracts mosquitos.
- Trees: Fruit trees such as apple pear, peach, plum
- Shrubs: Serviceberry, Sulphur flower
- Perennial flowers: Penstemons, yarrow, blue flax, wallflower
- Trees: Black locust, linden, honeylocust
- Shrubs: leadplant, chokecherry
- Perennial flowers: Asters, Showy milkweed, blanket flower, salvias, harebells, coneflowers
- Annual flowers & herbs: marigolds, zinnias, bachelor buttons, dill, cilantro
- Shrubs: Rabbitbrush
- Perennial flowers: Rocky mountain bee -plant, Blue giant hyssop, goldenrod, plains coreopsis
- Annual flowers: All sunflowers
Taking small steps to diversify your plantings, decrease or eliminate the usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and create a habitat oasis that welcomes our pollinator friends is an earth-friendly strategy that connects us to the broader efforts to step lightly upon the land and recognize our part in the interconnected matrix of pollinators, food, and sustainable landscapes.