You wake up and the first thing you do is reach for a cup of coffee, grab a peach and step out onto the porch. The air is tinged with the scent of roses blooming in your garden. You slice a few tomatoes to put on your sandwich for lunch then pack up for work.
Before you’ve really started your day you’ve already enjoyed the work of pollinators. Without them, many of the foods and beverages we take for granted would cease to exist. From apples and avocados to coffee, bananas, peaches, chocolate, tomatoes, nuts and herbs, we can thank pollinators for keeping them alive. And many of the flowers that grace our gardens, from sunflowers to roses, lavender and crocus, rely on them to thrive.
But what are pollinators, anyway? If your first thought is of bees, then you’re on the right track. There are 250,000 species of flowering plants that rely on pollination by bees! Many crops rely on them, as do our gardens. But did you know that there are other pollinators, too?
Any animal or insect that helps plants produce fruit or seeds by moving pollen from one to another is a pollinator. Other pollinators that do this include butterflies, ants, hummingbirds, bats, and even beetles and flies. So before you reach for the swatter, consider how much richer and more enjoyable life is thanks to their work.
If you want a healthy landscape, an abundant vegetable or herb garden, thriving fruit trees – and a cup of coffee to enjoy as you sit on the porch – here’s how you can attract and protect pollinators.
Plant Flowers That Attract Pollinators
It may seem obvious – if you want to attract pollinators, then plant flowers for them to pollinate. But there’s actually more to it. Birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators visit your garden for food. The pollen, nectar and seeds produced by your flowering herbs, trees, plants and shrubs offer the nutrients that they need to survive and thrive. And different pollinators have different needs.
Hummingbirds, for example, prefer nectar, which is primarily found in trumpet-shaped flowers. They are particularly attracted to reds and purples, so if you want to see more of these pollinators, consider planting Cardinal flowers, Hibiscus or Daylily.
Butterflies are also attracted to bright colors like red, yellow and even blue, but they prefer flowers with wide landing surfaces, like Butterfly Bush, Queen Anne’s Lace and Delphinium.
Bats will thank you for evening-blooming Primrose and Water Lilies.
Different types of flowers and plants attract different types of pollinators, but that’s not the full story, either. The variety of a plant matters, too. Some plants have been bred over time and have lost the fragrance, nectar or pollen that attracts and feeds pollinators. Look for native and old-fashioned varieties of plants that have the rich scent and abundant nectar that your pollinators need.
Finally, some plants are natural insecticides and will actually keep pollinators away, so be aware of this when planting certain flowers, like Marigolds and Chrysanthemums.
Build Houses For Pollinators
They love your flowering garden, but they need a special place of their own to rest, reproduce and grow. That doesn’t mean you need to build an entire apiary, but creating conditions that allow pollinators to nest will help attract them to your garden and protect them while they’re there.
Insects are pretty easy to please. They don’t need elaborate homes, but prefer small, dark nooks and crannies where they can stay warm and be safe. If you’ve ever watched a bee make its way into a crack between bricks where a bit of mortar has fallen away, then you know exactly what we mean!
Hollow bamboo, wooden blocks with holes drilled into the sides, a patch of uncut lawn, or crates filled with straw or sticks look like home to many insects. If you’re feeling motivated, you can build your own “bug house” out of an old drawer and a bunch of scraps you may otherwise have discarded. Carve up the drawer into sections and stuff each with a bit of bug-friendly material, like the straws and sticks we mentioned, or even some old paper and grass cuttings.
Bats are likewise easy to house, if you’ve got a sheltered corner near a wall, fence or hedge that will provide them with a safe haven. Climbing vines and loose bark also provide excellent bat roosting sites.
Water is important for any pollinator, so have a source available for yours. It can be as simple as laying out a flat pan of water where butterflies can stop, or as natural as arranging flat stones near your pond so they’ll collect a bit of water.
Hummingbird feeders are popular and will welcome them into your garden. Butterflies are attracted to salt, a vital nutrient for them. Table salt atop a damp stone will do nicely. Bird baths are a welcome sight not only for our feathered friends, but for bats, too.
Finally, be sure to plant a variety of flowers that bloom at different times, from early spring through late fall. A consistent source of food is important, especially as pollinators move through various lifecycles. Caterpillars, for example, prefer greenery, but later in their butterfly form they will require nectar. A diverse garden with a combination of food, water, and safe places to nest will create a welcoming home for pollinators.
Don’t Use Pesticides
A lack of nesting places and non-native or over-bred flowers are a threat to the continued existence of pollinators. But no threat is as serious as the use of pesticides. Many pesticides, even organic ones, are harmful to pollinators and can even be harmful to pets and your family.
An ecologically sound planting strategy will reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides. Healthy soil, native plants and diversity are a good starting place. Encourage beneficial insects to visit your garden and help get rid of those you don’t want. Ladybugs, for example, are quite effective at keeping your prized foliage protected from aphids.
If you have plants that need special protection by conventional pesticides, choose the least toxic one you can find and never spray it on an open bloom. Wait until after the plant is done blooming, and spray in the evening when pollinators are less active.
Finally, beware plants and flowers that you purchase through typical box-box garden centers. Tests have found that they contain high levels of toxic insecticides that can actually do more harm than good if they end up in your garden. Not only can they poison pollinators, but they’re likely to contaminate other plants following rain or a watering.
Pollinators rely on your garden to survive, just as we rely on their handiwork for our own survival. Without them, much of our food supply would disappear along with many of the small pleasures in life – from fragrant flowers to savory coffee beans. With a bit of care and planning, it’s easy to welcome them to your garden and help them thrive. In return, they’ll reward you with a beautiful, healthy – and even delicious! – landscape.
If you’d like to know more about planting a pollinator-friendly garden, get in touch with us for a consultation and we’ll plan one for you.