What's the Buzz? Planting Gardens for Pollinators!

Have a look around. What is buzzing through your backyard? I’m talking about pollinators. This last week I’ve spent a lot of time reading about planting for pollinators and want to share that with you. There is more to it than, “just plant flowers”, though that is a good start!

You have likely heard that pollinators are in trouble due to loss of habitat, climate change and insecticide use. Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and hummingbirds are cornerstone species: the food web, and ourselves, are dependent upon them. Their decline is a serious problem but luckily there is a lot we can all do about it whether you have a whole farm to work with, a backyard or just a flower window box in the city!

We can plant pollinator gardens that provide not only food but also likely habitat. Here’s how! 

1. Go native! Pollinator species in your region will thrive when abundant native flowering plants are available. In many cases native pollinators are in symbiotic relationships with the plants they pollinate and cannot survive without the other. Check out these amazing pollinator guides by region at Pollinator Partnership

2. Non-native plants are also appropriate. Perennials such as lavender, rosmary and sage are hardy in most climates. Herbs like basil and cilantro when left to flower can also provide abundant food. Check out this Plant List for more great choices.

3. Plan to  have plants flowering throughout the season from spring into the fall. 

4. Plant in clusters rather than individual plants so pollinators can easily find their feed source. This will also increase pollination since pollen will be moved within a population rather than onto the flower of a different species not achieving pollination. 

5. Keep color in mind. Butterflies are drawn to bright colors such as red and purple while bees are attracted to bright white, yellow, blue, or UV. 

6. Go for standard blooms rather than double blossoms. Double blossoms are beautiful for humans to behold but can be confusing for a pollinator when the nectar and pollen are hidden from view. 

7. Create habitat for nesting and to protect pollinators from extreme weather and predators. Leave dead branches, snags and other leaf litter. Build boxes to encourage solitary bees to nest in your garden. Leave some soil uncovered for underground nesting. Include plants that butterflies need at the caterpillar stage. A common example is milkweed for Monarch butterflies. 

8. Ensure a water source. This could be in many forms just be sure there is a shallow sloping side so insects do not drown. Mineral salts are important feed for butterflies so a wet mud area will provide them with both water and minerals. (Now I know why we always see swarms of blue butterflies in late spring and early summer around the largest pothole on our road!)

9. Minimize tillage to not disrupt ground nesting species. 

10. Leave rotting fruit under trees since butterflies, and many other insects, will also feed on this. 

This topic is pretty deep and I know I've just scratched the surface. If you are feeling inspired to read more there are a lot of great resources online. Two I found are the Pollinator Partnership I mentioned above and the USDA.



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