How to Plant a Pollinator Garden
We love gardens that are both beautiful and practical — after all, whyever would it be necessary to choose? This is likely why pollinator gardens remain so popular, with their amazing array of flowers, colors, and shapes that attract pollinating creatures to do their magic.
From bees and butterflies to moths, hummingbirds, and even some flies and beetles, pollinators fertilize an estimated 80% of the world’s food crops, so whatever we can do to in our own gardens protect pollinators — we’re going to do it. (We might have a selfish reason, too. It's so fun to walk through the garden and see butterflies and hummingbirds flitting around!)
Here’s how to invite pollinators into your garden — and it’s easier than you might think.
Grow a variety of plants
That sounds like a really general directive, but it's true and it will help you welcome the most pollinators to your garden. That's because pollinators, from birds to butterflies, use different plants, and different parts of plants, depending on their lifecycle and their needs.
Butterflies, for example, require host plants, which are plants that provide food for the caterpillars. Many trees are host plants, but monarch butterfly caterpillars will only eat milkweed plants. Birds require areas for shelter, and shrubs — native or not, flowering or not — can provide the shelter. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to a pollinator garden.
Grow floral targets
"Floral target" is a fancy name for "a bunch of the same flowering plant growing together." Floral targets can be native or non native plants, but you'll want to plant a variety of plant groupings of flowers with different colors, flower shapes, and sizes.
Use echinacea, Knock Out® roses, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, milkweed, blanket flower, butterfly bush, coreopsis, and other pollen-rich plants to lure in bees and butterflies. Each type of pollinator prefers particular colors and flower shapes, so by planting a variety, you’re creating a buffet table suited to everyone’s individual tastes.
Plant for all seasons
Rather than focusing all your energy on a gorgeous spring display, go for three seasons of bloom succession so that pollinators have food for as long as possible. Make a master list of plants to grow, and label each as spring, summer, or fall bloomers — then ensure an even mix of each in your garden. It will not only look beautiful, but you’ll be treated with an incredible show of beneficial creatures for most of the year!
I know it’s impressive when your garden is 100% neat and tidy, but if you really want pollinators to visit (and stay in!) your garden, you’ll have to be okay with letting some brush piles, and downed limbs stay where they are. Pollinators love these hidey holes for shelter, and if they don’t find them in your garden, they’ll go elsewhere. Leaf piles, collected brush, a few dead plants? They’re bug hotels — for the good bugs.
Rather than cleaning up your garden in the fall, let your plants stand through the winter and cut them back when the weather starts to warm up in the spring.
Ensure a clean water supply
You can start small and go big, but the important thing is to have a regular supply of fresh, clean water on hand for your visiting friends. Ponds, birdbaths, and water puddles are all great ways to provide a water source for pollinators. Keep the birdbath clean, though!
Avoid using chemicals in the garden
Perhaps the most important step in making your garden friendly to pollinators is to avoid using chemicals that can kill them. Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers can decimate fragile pollinator populations and pollute nearby water sources, so have an aim to go as organic as possible. If you absolutely must use a nonorganic chemical in your garden, opt for the least toxic choice possible, follow the directions on the label, and never apply it on a windy day.
If you follow all of these directions you're virtually guaranteed to have a plethora of pollinators visiting and living in your garden, but if you can't hit them all, don't worry, even a few pollinator-friendly changes will help pollinator numbers increase.
- Katie Elzer-Peters