When you think about pollinators, honeybees are probably first to come to mind. However, bees aren’t the only pollinators. Other important pollinator species include hummingbirds, butterflies, hoverflies, soldier beetles, moths, and more. All are important parts of the ecosystem. According to the US Forest Service, pollinators are key to the health of about 75% of the worlds flowering plants. According to the Million Pollinator Challenge, pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat each day.
Many pollinators are struggling to maintain healthy population numbers. They’re under threat from widespread pesticide use and loss of habitat and food sources. If you’d like to help pollinators. there are many easy ways to do so. As with any living creature, the key to keeping these pollinators around is providing the right food, water, and habitat.
You’ll reap the benefits that pollinators provide, and you’ll get to enjoy the many beautiful birds, butterflies, and insects as they visit your garden.
Here’s how to attract pollinators to your garden:
Grow the Right Food
Flowers are the obvious choice for pollinator food. We’ve all seen hummingbirds fluttering around lantana plants and butterflies sipping nectar from phlox flowers. Flowers are definitely important, but some pollinators, like butterflies and moths, need other plants for food during the caterpillar stage of their lifecycle. Some great caterpillar-friendly host plant options include dill, carrots, fennel, gooseberries, azaleas, elm, thistle, vetch, pawpaws, clover, and milkweed.
As for flowers, it’s best to choose a variety. Opt for a mix of perennials and annuals with early-, mid-, and late-season bloom periods to make sure pollinators have food throughout the growing season. Also consider adding native plants to your garden in addition to flashier non-native flowers. Pollinators native to Maryland will appreciate the extra thought you put into your garden and will show up in droves. One of the pretty native butterflies, the Painted Lady, is almost guaranteed to visit your garden if you plant their preferred host plants: native aster varieties. Here are a few great native options that are also colorful and beautiful:
- Bergamot (Monarda)
- Cardinal Flower
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
- Flowering Dogwood
- Highbush Blueberry
Have a Clean Water Source
Providing water is one of the easiest things you can do to give pollinators a helping hand and encourage them to visit your garden. Water can be in the form of an existing creek flowing through your yard, a birdbath, or fountain. Whatever you choose, make sure the container has sloping edges with places for bees and other insects can climb out, should they fall in the water. An easy way to make existing water features like a bird bath more bee-friendly is to add in a bunch of pebbles or rocks that stick up above the water in some places.
Plant and Provide Habitat
While habitat requirements vary from species to species, there are a few simple steps you can take to make your yard and garden more pollinator-friendly. Planting perennial hedgerows along the edges of your property is a wonderful way to create habitat for pollinators to hide from predators, lay eggs, and care for young. If possible, leave an area of your lawn un-mowed to provide food and cover for pollinators.
Bees, insects, birds, and butterflies also benefit from features like standing dead trees and piles of brush or decomposing grass clippings. You’re not going to want to leave a big pile of brush in the center of your garden, but consider leaving a little pile at the back edge of your flower bed or in the middle of a landscape bed where it can be hidden by plants. You can also try building an insect hotel. These are generally boxes filled with a variety of materials like pinecones, bamboo shoots, dried grasses, or wood with holes drilled in it. They provide places for solitary bees and other insects to lay eggs. Paint the “hotel” a bright color, and suddenly it becomes a garden sculpture!
Avoid Using Pesticides
It’s important to avoid using pesticides whenever possible. Even certified organic pesticides can have the unintended consequence of killing helpful insects along with the harmful insects.
Benefits of Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden
Pollinators are key to the survival of many plant species, some of which we humans depend on for food or medicine. Having pollinators in your backyard can help ensure your garden is both beautiful and productive. Pollinators are also a lot of fun to watch — especially for children. Seeing pollinators in action will help kids and adults connect with the natural world. Everyone loves butterflies!
At Homestead Gardens, we recognize the important role pollinators play in the ecosystem. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you’d like help selecting plants for your pollinator garden.