Plants don’t ask for much. For the most part, sunlight, water, soil, and nutrients are the necessary ingredients needed for successful gardening. There is, however, one element that tends to get overlooked when it comes to plant needs, and that is the importance of pollinators.
You may have heard the terms “pollinizer” and “pollinator” and wondered “Aren’t they the same thing”? Both terms are very important to this topic, but they mean two different things.
A pollinizer is a plant that donates pollen to another plant. Consider a fruit tree that requires cross-pollination between varieties of the same genus.
The pollinator is the animal that transfers pollen from one plant to another. Pollinators can come in the form of birds, butterflies, moths, bees, flies, and for some specialized plants, even mammals and reptiles. Without these incredible busy-bodies, the world would not be able to support the plants in your garden, the plants on your dinner table, or possibly even life as a whole.
To coax your local pollinators into your garden, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Plant Seasonally: Though many species of bird and insect are not around all year, chances are that there’s at least someone needing food or lodging during even the coldest months. It’s a great idea to have something blooming during each season. If you don’t have a big yard, or even a yard at all, container planting is also a great way to give passing pollinators a quick treat. Below is a list of common plants and the time of year they are typically blooming or available in the nursery.
Spring (especially important for anyone with fruiting plants)
- Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
- Aquilegia (Columbine)
- Fuchsia (hardy and annual varieites)
- Alcea (Hollyhocks)
- Lupinus (Lupine)
- Pieris (Lily of the Valley Shrub)
- Ribes sanguineum (Red Flowering Currant)
- Ceanothus (California Lilac)
- Malus (Crabapple)
- Arctostaphylos (Kinnickinnick)
Tilia (Linden Tree)
- Monarda (Bee Balm)
- Hemerocallis (Daylily)
- Echinops (Sea Holly)
- Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy)
- Lavandula (Lavender)
- Achillea (Yarrow)
- Caryopteris (Blue Beard)
- Clethera (Summersweet)
- Lonicera (Vining Honeysuckle)
- Sambucus (Black Lace Elderberry)
- Crocosmia (Montbretia)
- Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
- Agastache (Hummingbird Mint)
- Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan)
- Echinacea (Coneflower)
- Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed)
- Solidago (Goldenrod)
- Upright Sedum such as Autumn Joy
- Helleborus (Christmas or Lenten Rose)
- Mahonia (Oregon Grape)
Host Plants: Certain plants are crucial to the life cycles of creatures like butterflies. Adult butterflies lay their eggs on plants like dill, fennel, asclepias (butterfly weed or swamp milkweed), and buddleja (butterfly bush). When the larva hatches it snacks on the foliage. They are essentially the bed and breakfast of the insect world.
Limit Insecticides: Remember that many pollinators are also insects, and thus, are often affected when you are treating (even organically) for pests. Most treatments are generalized and will affect many different insects, so make sure to use the products according to the labels on the back and never treat flowering plants with insecticides during times when pollinators are foraging. You may also consider other beneficial insects like lace wings, lady bugs, mantis, and nematodes which are natural predators for many garden pests. There are many good ways to attract or make an addition of these to your garden as well, most are typically available for purchase in the spring.
Shelter: If you don’t live next to a wooded area, or your yard is too small for larger trees, consider putting up nesting boxes for butterflies, mason bees, bats, etc.
Water: Shallow dishes or baths of water are a great addition to a pollinator-friendly garden. If you don’t live near a natural source of water, you can create one. Even a shallow container with rocks in it that bees can land on and drink will suffice. Even for hummingbirds, during the hot summer months, the nectar can heat up and spoil very quickly, so make sure to change feeders at least daily in high temperatures. You can also plant supplemental flowering plants with the addition of a water feeder.
At the end of the day, pollinators are actually pretty easy to please. Just planting a few flowery things for them to enjoy is a great first step. Beyond that, you may enjoy watching them work so much that you decide to spoil them (quite a bit). Pretty much anyone can help contribute to pollinator success by just keeping the above steps in mind. Hap-bee gardening!Author, Anna Paolozzi