Increasingly popular these days, pollinator gardens are becoming a thing for suburban lawns, urban rooftops, and even designated rural spaces. Much of it was spurred on by the effort to help bees, but these gardens work for so much more than that.
Pollinator gardens are great for all kinds of insects and even birds, a few of which are pollinators as well. All bees and several other insects– wasps, flies, moths, butterflies – love a good selection of fresh flowers to visit. And the hummingbirds! Rather than that tinted sugar water in feeders, pollinator gardens give hummingbirds the real stuff: nectar.
With that in mind, for those interested in pollinator gardens, here’s a look at how they work, both in terms of flora and fauna, along with some flower suggestions that might help attract the pollinators we want them to. more see.
Native plants for native animals
Overall, the consensus on creating pollinator gardens is to go heavily on native plants. It’s not for any kind of elitist statement our-plants-are-the-best-plants. Rather, pollinators that evolved to be in a certain area did so to use certain types of plants and flowers.
Of course, we are not going to import exotic pollinators into our gardens, so we have to serve what customers like. We can try to squeeze in a weird recipe here and there, but these bees and butterflies know what they want and are creatures of habit.
That said, planting hundreds or thousands of the same native wildflower won’t do the job well. Part of the problem bees face is that our farming systems create monocultures so massive that there isn’t much to feed on when the crops stop flowering.
So when we plan which plants to include in a pollinator garden – and think of trees and shrubs as well as herbaceous wildflowers – we need to keep an eye on assortments. Plants and flowers of different shapes, sizes, colors and aromas make pollinators happier.
Extend the season
And, we especially need to include things that bloom in early spring, fall, and even winter, as opposed to summer only. This means that the garden will provide food when it is scarce. Summer wildflowers are wonderful, but making sure we have flowers in March and through November (at least) will help keep the local pollinator population healthier.
Red buds and dogwoods are great trees for early spring, and lilacs, Christmas roses, and lily of the valley are great flowers. Mums, pansies, sunflowers, asters, black-eyed Susans, zinnias, and dahlias are also fall flowering possibilities.
Include water sources
Like any animal, pollinators also need fresh water, so it is helpful to include a water source in or near a pollinator garden. It can be as simple as a nearby birdbath or stream, or it can be a pretty garden pond with shallow spots for small wildlife to have reasonable access.
Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are not creatures that like to dive in swimming pools. They prefer pleasant places where they can rest and take a sip or two to water their dinner. Having some sort of accessible water source around makes a huge difference.
Target specific pollinators
Different pollinators have different preferences and abilities, so when we hope to attract certain guests to the garden, it pays to plant something suitable.
- Butterflies are attracted to red, orange, and yellow flowers, and they tend to head to open flowers, where they have room to land while feeding on them. Try butterfly bush, coneflower, milkweed, aster, sage, zinnias, and black-eyed Susans.
- Hummingbirds are also crazy about red, but then move more towards the pink-purple palette. They tend to prefer tubular flowers which are well suited to their long beaks and tongues. Try cardinal blossoms, fuchsia, lantana, petunia, and sage.
- Moths and bats are nocturnal pollinators; thus, they need flowers that come out at night. Try wild honeysuckle, roses, primroses, clematis, and flowering tobacco.
- Bees are extremely versatile and varied, so providing for all of them essentially means planting all the flowers we can imagine. Fruit trees and berry shrubs are a good start. They like different types of culinary herbs. Echinacea, nasturtiums and sunflowers are other edible plants to plant. Oregon grapes and winter jasmine are good off-season inclusions.
Pollinator gardens help vegetable gardens and orchards
Aside from the benevolent act of providing for our friendly bees, butterflies, birds and bats, planting pollinator gardens is a great thing to do for our own food-producing plants. Most crops require pollinators, so attracting them to pollinator gardens means they will be there to pollinate our crops when the time comes. For this reason alone, it is worth dedicating a corner of the yard or vegetable garden to a pollinator garden. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
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