Gardening for Pollinators

What are pollinators?

bee pollinator gardensPollinators are organisms that aid in the transfer of flower pollen to allow for the fertilization of plants which is essential to fruit and seed production. Some plants such as most grasses have very light pollen which is easily carried in the wind but most plants (80% of flowering plants) are dependent on pollinators to transfer their pollen.

Bees are the principal pollinators but there are many other pollinators such as flies, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, wasps and even some beetles as well as certain bats.

Threats to pollinators:

butterfly attracting gardensThe main threat to pollinators is their habitat loss. Expanding urbanization and agricultural development eat up the habitat of these creatures replacing with roadways, lawns, and exotic garden plants. Pollinators thus lose the resources that are necessary for their survival.

Pesticides also take their toll. Pesticides can kill pollinators when they are sprayed directly but also by contamination of the plants they forage. Pollinators absorb these toxins as they move from flower to flower. Due to their small body mass small quantities of toxins can kill pollinators. Contaminated nectar can be returned to nest affecting next generation also.

Helping pollinators in your garden:

WildflowersWe can help pollinators by planning and thoughtful gardening. Natural and organic gardening without pesticides is important as well as providing habitats for a diversity of pollinators.

  • Pollinators need wildflowers now tamed are called native flowers. Plant native flowers with a variety of shapes and colours to attract the greatest diversity of pollinators. Native flowers are more abundant in nectar and pollen than most exotic flowers bred for showiness. Do not transplant wildflowers from the wild as this threatens loss of their original habitat further. Native plant suppliers are now readily available.
  • provide the greatest diversity of flowers possible, ensuring there are a number of different flowers in bloom at anytime from early spring thru the summer and into fall. An all-season garden.
  • choose flowers with a variety of colours to attract a diversity of pollinators. Blue, yellow and purple flower attract bees. Hummingbirds prefer red flowers.
  • provide a diversity of flower shapes and sizes. Pollinators vary in size and in the length of their tongues. Short-tongued bees require shallow flowers in order to reach nectar whereas hummingbirds with longer tongues prefer bell or trumpet-shaped flowers.
  • if planting non-native flowers choose heirloom varieties which are more likely to have retained their ability to produce nectar and pollen.
  • avoid double or tripled flowered hybrids that deny pollinators access to their nectar and pollen
  • plant clusters( clumps of 3 to 5 plants) of each flower species to attract the attention of pollinators
  • shrubs and trees such as apple, blueberry, dogwood, cherry and willow will provide pollen early in the season when food is scarce for pollinators.
  • ensure you plant some late-blooming flowers such as asters, cup plant or goldenrod to provide nectar and pollen for pollinators active into the fall such as bumble bees, monarch butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • satisfy the thirst of pollinators in the hot, dry summer by providing water in a shallow dish or birdbath with half submerged stones as perches.
  • a muddy spot will provide essential nutrients to butterflies and nesting materials for some bees
  • allow a corner of your yard to go “wild” with grasses, weeds, wildflowers, logs and brush or at least a mulch-free area of the garden to provide nesting, sheltering and overwintering sites.
  • if your yard is all lawns then consider adding some clover and allow grass to grow a bit longer to provide some nectar sources
  • if you only have a small balcony or patio you can do your part by putting out a few flowering container plants to provide nectar and pollen for passing-by pollinators.
  • avoid the use of all chemical pesticides and herbicides. Utilize companion planting techniques as well as natural insect control measures and deterents.
  • consider providing a mason bee house, butterfly house, and/or a bat house to encourage nesting of these pollinators in your yard.