Gardening for Pollinators

Congratulations for supporting pollinators!  Even if you don’t have acreage, you can start with a grouping of planters containing a mix of a native flowers and annuals.  A small perennial flower bed or a small vegetable garden interspersed with flowers are other space-saving options.

Choose a sunny spot

Pollinators need the warmth of the sun to raise their body temperature and energize them for their foraging work; at least 6 hours is ideal. Include flat rocks to serve as warming and resting spots.

Provide a place for resting and drinking

Provide a spot for these hard-workers to land and drink safely by filling a shallow saucer/birdbath with sloping sides with water and rocks. Butterflies like to sip liquid from muddy soil (a behavior known as “puddling”) to get the salts and other dissolved minerals they need, so add a mix of dampened landscape sand, compost, and organic garden soil to the saucer.

Use a variety of plants (annuals, perennials and shrubs) with different flower colors, forms, and bloom times. 

Tubular or spurred flowers are favored by butterflies because of their long proboscis (feeding tube). Large blooms with open petals, such as sunflowers are great landing pads for bumble bees and butterflies, whereas honeybees often flock to tiny flowers.  In general, simple, single flowers with open centers provide easier access to pollen. 

Flowers in shades of blue, purple, and yellow are said to attract bees, while red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple blooms are better for attracting butterflies. Moths, which tend to feed in the evening, are attracted by the fragrance of white or cream-colored flowers.

Include plants native to your region, as well as some host plants where butterflies can lay their eggs and where the caterpillars can feed, such as milkweed and parsley.  Larval host plants are meant to be eaten by butterfly caterpillars, so you may want to plant them in an area that is out of direct sight.

Plant multiples rather than single plants for one-stop feeding.

Arranging your plants into groups will lure in more pollinators because their pollen sources are easier to find and use. Create a more naturalistic design by grouping your plants in drifts or clusters throughout your garden rather than planting in rows.

Provide a place for nesting

After a long day of feasting, pollinators need a place to rest and take shelter, sometimes referred to as nesting. Leave a few patches of bare soil for ground dwelling bumblebees and some solitary bees. Dead wood, such as hollow logs, tree stumps, and dead limbs are also common nesting spots for bees, as well as wasps and beetles. Mason and leaf-cutter bee houses are also available to rent, purchase or build.

And of course, limit the use of pesticides

As an alternative to pesticide use, try natural pest-control strategies, such as companion planting and the use of natural predators.

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