Want to create a pollinator garden that will be all the buzz? It doesn’t matter if you live in the country, have a yard in the suburbs, or live in an apartment in the middle of a city; container gardens, rooftop gardens, raised beds, window boxes, and traditional gardens all can provide a feast for pollinators.
There is no better time to celebrate pollinators and contribute to their health than National Pollinator Week June 21 – 27, 2001. Creating a special pollinator garden or adding flowers to an existing garden is a great way to repay them for all the benefits they provide us. (reference other article)
The color, size, shape, and even the smell of flowers, no matter where they grow, attract specific pollinators. However, pollinators require more than just flowers. They need places to overwinter, hide, and lay eggs. Some also need certain plants for their young. Don’t overlook to include host plants that are pollinator nurseries for caterpillars in your garden. Plants like milkweed (Asclepias) is needed for Monarchs and wild indigo (Baptisia) is the host for Duskywing butterflies. Other butterflies prefer perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), butterfly weed (Asclepias), and even ornamental grasses for host plants and nectar. Adding flowering shrubs and trees to your garden or yard are also great additions for pollinators. Blueberry, cherry, dogwood, plum, willow, and popular provide some of the first pollen and nectar in early spring when food is scarce.
Individual plant characteristics attract different pollinators
Flowers have a vast array of diverse fragrances, sizes, shapes, and colors. Each unique characteristic attracts specific pollinators.
Pollinators will feed on a multitude of flowers, regardless of color, but they do have color preferences. Blue and yellow flowers attract bees. Butterflies prefer purple and orange, but also like pink and periwinkle pastel-colored flowers. Hummingbirds are attracted to red and orange, while moths go for white and light-colored flowers open at night.
The size of flower, shape of petals, and even the way the flower is positioned on the stem can make the more or less appealing to pollinators. The flower’s shape also dictates which pollinators will be able to access its nectar and pollen.
Flat disc-shaped composite flowers, like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) or sunflower (Helianthus), offer easy access and a flat landing surface attractive to most bees and butterflies.
Umbrella-shaped flowers, technically called umbelliferous flowers, like milkweed (Asclepias) or Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot (Daucus carota), also offer good landing platforms as well as easy access to short and long-tongued pollinators. Interestingly, each butterfly species has a different length of tongue which determines what/which flowers have nectar within reach.
More complex flower shapes, like tubular flowers, make it more difficult and at times impossible for most pollinators to access pollen and nectar. Lobelia (Lobelia spp) and beardtongue (Penstemon spp) are tubular flowers with a large flat bottom petal that allows pollinators to land and then crawl inside. However, hummingbirds with their long tongues and hovering ability excel at feeding from tubular flowers. Nodding flowers like columbine provide yet another challenge, but bumble bees can hang on to these flowers and extract nectar.
Pollinators are also attracted by fragrance. There are tiny hairs on insect’s antennae and mouthparts called sensilla that pick up the odor and guide pollinators to the source. Butterflies are drawn to sweet and spicy scents, while bees are fond of fruity or floral fragrances.
Textures, leaf types, and seed heads
Another way to attract pollinators is to supply a wide variety of materials they need. Some bees line their nests with oils and resins collected from flowers. This lining offers waterproofing and antimicrobial properties, which benefits the developing bees. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine) and mullein (Verbascum spp) provide plant fuzz, called pubescence. Wool carder bees use the pubescence to line their nests located in hollow stems of last year’s flowers.
Including native plants with different textures, leaf types, seed heads, and hollow stems will enable pollinators to not only dine in your garden but also nest and raise their young.
Don’t clean up the garden too early
Allowing leaf litter and dried stems to remain in the garden until late spring increases the chances of pollinators benefiting from the material. Once temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F you can usually remove them. Just to ensure any young bees or other insects have emerged, place the dried leaves and hollow stems etc in a sunny location for a few more weeks.
Keys to planting gardens to attract the most pollinators
All pollinators worship the sun. Splendid sunshine places the buzz in bees and butterflies by warming them up and drying their wings. Choosing a location with full sun and plants which also thrive in sunshine will enable pollinators to hang out all day, dining at will in your garden. Planting flowers in dense clusters and sprays of similar colors will alert pollinators that your dining room is indeed open for business. Overlap flowering times with species that bloom early in the spring through late fall will enable pollinators to drop in and forage continually throughout the year. To ensure a wide variety of pollinators visit your pollinator outdoor dining room include an array various colors, shapes, and sizes of flowers.
You can improve pollinators’ access to the nodding and tubular flowers by planting them on the outer edges of gardens. The flat, composite, and umbelliferous flowers can be planted toward the center since they have large landing areas. Along with the flowers, provide plants that serve as host species and nesting material to encourage pollinators to raise their young in your garden. Don’t forget pollinators need to drink more than nectar. A shallow water source, like clay dish or decorative bowl with a few sparkling stones or colorful marbles, would be perfect. Seek out those native species of plants rather than hybrids because native plants are best suited for both your climate and the local pollinators.
Garden characteristics to bring the buzz
- Here is a quick checklist for your pollinator garden.
- The best pollinator gardens include:
- Plant a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers so that the garden will offer continuous blooms of different shapes, colors, and textures throughout the growing season
- Native plants are most adapted to your regions soil, climate conditions, and native pollinators
- Single flowers – those with one ring of petals around a central disc provide more nectar and pollen than pompom-shaped flowers
- Bees and Butterflies prefer flowers in full sun
- Bees are most attracted to blue & yellow flowers
- Butterflies prefer purple & orange flowers
- Hummingbirds first choice is red flowers
- Plant host species and well as food sources
- Include areas of shelter – dead logs, branches, rocks…
- Incorporate plants that provide nesting material
- Add a hummingbird feeder
- Provide a shallow water source
- Create a shallow basin of bare soil that catches rainfall to provide pollinators with minerals. Apply water to this area during dry spells.
A window box display, containers clustered together, a raised bed, or simply colorful flower sprays added to your current landscaping will provide a buzz worthy dining area for pollinators. They aren’t choosey where the next meal comes from. If You Plant It – They Will Come.