Butterflies, bees and birds add beauty and excitement to gardens, but those aren't the only reasons to invite them in. Many ornamental and edible plants rely on these colorful creatures to transfer the pollen within their blooms. The simple acts of pollination and cross-pollination ensure plants produce seeds and fruits, and they result in bigger, better crops of fruits and vegetables for you.1 Making your garden pollinator-friendly is simple when you garden with pollinators in mind.
Pollinators vary in what they look for in gardens; your plant choices can anticipate their preferences and needs. Bees, for example, need both pollen and nectar. Hummingbirds and butterflies seek nectar only — but that doesn't keep them from transferring pollen as they feed.
Satisfy pollinator requirements with diverse flowers that meet both needs. Monarda, also known as bee balm, is a rich nectar source. Plants with simple, sunflower-like blooms, such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, asters and zinnias, generally provide both pollen and nectar. Flowering herbs, such as lavender, are excellent additions, too.
Flower shapes and colors also matter to pollinators. Bees prefer white, yellow and blue blooms. Birds like red, orange and white. Bright, vivid colors, including red, yellow and purple, draw butterflies. Butterflies and bees favor flat, open blooms with big petals for easy landings and short nectar tubes.1 Tubular, trumpet-shaped blooms, such as honeysuckle and lobelia flowers, are hummingbird favorites. With their long beaks, these birds reach nectar that insects and other birds can't.
Native plants are especially important to pollinators and other wildlife. Unlike honey bees, which came from Europe, native insects have special relationships with native plants from their regions.1 Some native pollinators aren't picky, but others will only feed on native plants they've come to know. By using these in your planting schemes, everyone is welcome.
Whether your pollinator garden is a window box or a rambling border, choose a spot with full, direct sun and protection from harsh winds. Butterflies in particular prefer resting or feeding spots shielded from gusts.
Fill your sunny garden with plants that bloom at staggered times throughout the year and flowers that bloom for long periods. Plant in larger groups — three to five plants instead of singles — so pollinators can forage without expending a lot of energy. Vary plant heights to create layers that add safety and shelter. These steps ensure your garden supports bees, birds and butterflies all season long.
Mixing annuals, perennials and edibles in your landscape provides diversity for pollinators and draws non-pollinating songbirds and other wildlife, too. As blooms pass, seeds provide welcome food. Fallen fruits, including raspberries and blackberries purposely skipped at harvest time, provide food and energy for butterflies and birds.
You may want to plan a few patches of special plants to host specific desirable caterpillars. You'll sacrifice leaves as the caterpillars feed, but that means more butterflies once they mature. Monarch caterpillars, for example, feed exclusively on milkweed leaves. Black swallowtail caterpillars prefer dill and parsley.
Beyond your plants and planting designs, other aspects of your garden help attract pollinators and other wildlife — and keep them around. Consider adding the following elements:
By incorporating these elements into your plans, what was once just a feeding and foraging spot becomes a home for pollinators, too. Consider keeping a garden journal of your new acquaintances and their preferences. You'll enjoy tracking changes from year to year.
When you share your garden with pollinators and wildlife, pest problems can still appear. If pest controls become necessary, minimize their impact on welcome pollinators and other wildlife with the following tips:
By making your garden a welcoming place for bees, butterflies and birds, you can enjoy the beauty of pollinators in action and reap the rewards at harvest time. GardenTech® brands and the GardenTech email newsletter are here to help you learn about gardening and experience its benefits and joys.
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1. E. Ley, et al., "Selecting Plants for Pollinators," NAPPC and Pollinator Partnership, pgs. 8-18.