Planting flowers is a great way to beautify your outdoor spaces. But did you know that certain flowers and plants can also have a positive impact on the environment, more specifically pollinators? Today I thought I’d share some simple tips to help you plant a pollinator friendly garden, one that will help you attract and support our friendly little pollinators as well as other native wildlife.
Planting A Pollinator-Friendly Garden
According to Pollinator Partnership’s, “Somewhere between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination – they need pollinators. Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops. That means that 1 out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators. …In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.”
What are pollinators? Pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, birds (primarily hummingbirds), flies, beetles, and bats. Wind is also a great pollinator!
The Problem? Pollinator populations are changing. As discussed here, many pollinator populations are in decline and this decline is attributed most severely to a loss in feeding and nesting habitats, pollution, toxic chemicals, climate change, etc.
Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway.
- Mary Kay Ash
The best pollinating plants?
Native plants are plants that grow naturally in a region. They are sometimes dismissed as weeds but these native plants are vital for an ecosystem.
This means that the list of native plants, aka pollinator-friendly plants, will often differ from one region to the next.
- To find out what plants are native to your region check out:The Pollinator Guide or Xerces Society “Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants” Lists
Type in your zip code and it will let you know the native plants/best pollinators for your area.
- You can also find a nursery that specializes in native plants as they’ll most likely be familiar with and help you to find plants that are native to your region.
Why are native plants pollinator friendly?
According to the U.S. Forest Service: “Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. Unlike natives, common horticultural plants do not provide energetic rewards for their visitors and often require insect pest control to survive.”
Native plants are also advantageous, because:
- They do not require fertilizers + require fewer pesticides than lawns.
- They require less maintenance and less water than most common horticultural plants/lawns. This is in part due because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions so don’t require as much water to thrive.
- They can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.
- They help to prevent erosion.
- They sequester, or remove, carbon from the air and help to reduce air pollution (For example: long-living trees like oaks and maples, are effective at storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
- They provide shelter and food for wildlife and promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage. The native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by native plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.
- They bring us countless fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- They provide around half of the world’s oils, fibers and raw materials
- Bonus: Native plants are beautiful and increase scenic values!
Word of Caution: When purchasing plants for your garden– make sure they’re native! Many of the plants you’ll find at your local nursery, although beautiful, are often not native to your region. As a result these “exotic plants in turn become invasive pests, outcompeting native species and degrading habitat in remaining natural areas.” Basically, species that are NOT native your region and can interfere with ecosystems.
Where to start:
Find out which zone you’re in. To help you find your zone, go to Growing Zone Finder. Knowing your zone will help you select which plants to grow and when to plant them.
Native plants you might consider growing depending on the zone you live in:
If you’re looking to attract a certain type of pollinator to your yard, here’s a helpful guide of which flowers to grow:
- Butterfly Garden: lavender, lilac, phlox, mint, pansies. Here’s a list of plants to grow to feed baby caterpillars, also known as larva.
- Bee Garden: sunflowers, goldenrod, hyacinth, snapdragons, bee balm.
- Hummingbird Garden: bird of paradise, Chinese bellflowers, columbine, fuschia, yellow trumpet bush.
Pollinator-friendly gardening tips:
- Plant native plants.
- Weed your lawn less often. I know this may sound like a nightmare to a lot of you (no one likes a “messy” lawn), but when growing a pollinator-friendly yard, weeding less often actually helps bees — bees need clover!
- Choose plants that bloom at different times throughout the year. As shares the US Fish & Wildlife Service, “pollinators need nectar early in the spring, throughout the summer and even into the fall.“
- A great way to support bee’s? Add a shallow water source in your backyard. “Bees get thirsty while they work, so having an accessible source of water in your yard will make it an appealing location. A shallow birdbath will do the trick, but if it’s too deep, bees may have trouble drinking.”
- Provide some pebbles or rocks as “islands” in the dish so pollinators—especially small bees—won’t drown.
- Keep your parts of your yard untidy.
- Give bees a nesting place.
- Avoid toxic pesticides, especially neonicotinoid (or neonic) pesticides. These chemicals don’t only harm pollinators but kill the entire plant—including the pollen and nectar.
- Plant milkweed to feed the monarch butterflies (monarch butterflies ONLY eat milkweed and yet these plants are slowly disappearing due to our unsustainable agricultural practices).
Other ways to support our pollinators
- Become a wildlife gardener.
- Instagram your garden and share your photos and info about why you’re planting what you’re planting.
- Support organizations like the Xerces Society, an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.
- Urge the EPA and Amazon to stop selling harmful pesticides. NRDC has a super easy email template you can use which will send the email right from their website.
Do you have a garden? Do you grow any native plants?
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