How To Attract Pollinators To Your Garden

Lynn Coulter
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bee on flower

Please don’t swat that bee. It may have pollinated the apple in your lunch box, the cucumbers on your salad, or the berries in your cobbler. Pollinators like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and even beetles and bats help put food on our tables by fertilizing plants that produce fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, since 2006, honeybees have been in trouble. A mysterious syndrome called Colony Collapse Disorder has caused many hives to become empty almost overnight. Scientists are puzzled about whether the problem is an invasive mite; a parasite or disease; stress; pesticide poisoning; lack of forage habitat; or a combination of these factors and more. One thing is sure. We need our bees. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that they pollinate every third bite of food we eat.

If you’d like to help our bees, and learn how to attract pollinators to your garden, try our tips below. Then read more about planting to attract pollinators in your vegetable patch. The good news is that we can keep our gardens buzzing.

Use Native Plants

Exotic plants are beautiful and desirable, but many native flowers, trees, and shrubs offer a buffet of foods for hungry bees. Native plants are also great to use because many have adapted to withstand extremes of temperature and rainfall. Try purple and yellow coneflowers, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), coreopsis, sunflowers,yarrow, and blue phlox.

Bees will visit herbs, too, including lavender, oregano, mint, basil, and marjoram. Butterflies flock to zinnias, honeysuckle, azaleas, willows, oaks, asters, and more.

Plant in Drifts

Remember that saying about how it’s hard to find a needle in a haystack? Imagine how hard it is for a tiny insect to spot a favorite flower, if there’s only one around. Make it easier for pollinators to find food by planting in colorful drifts, or clumps, of at least three to five plants.

Grow Successive Blooms

You don’t want to eat for a just a few weeks every year, so remember that bees and butterflies also need to feed regularly. To attract them throughout the season, plant flowers, trees, and shrubs with overlapping bloom times, so you’ll have a continuous succession of flowers. Use feeders for hummingbirds.

Avoid Pesticides

Avoid using pesticides when bees and other pollinators are present and active, and try organic controls first. You can always use something stronger, if necessary.

Provide Water

All living things need fresh, clean water to drink. Consider adding a bird bath, pond, or fountain to your garden, and thirsty visitors will stop for a sip.

Offer Shelter And Food For Larvae

Pollinators need a safe place for their eggs and young. Welcome caterpillars, which are the larval stage of butterflies, to your garden with the special plants they need. Herbs that provide food and shelter for caterpillars include dill, fennel, rue, and parsley. They also like oak, willow, apple, birch, cherry, poplar, and alder trees. You can make a simple nesting box for bees, or leave brush piles and tree snags for native bees to inhabit.

plants for butterflies

(Note: some of these plants will grow in both areas. Ask your Home Depot Garden Center associate for help you choose plants for your region).

Plants for southern butterfly gardens:

Black locust, sedum, pentas, lantana, salvia, butterfly bush, citrus trees, passion vine, carrots, dill, fennel, parsley, willows

Plants for northern butterfly gardens:

Western snowberry, butterfly weed, lupine, sage, aster, hyssop, borage, lavender, marigold, prairie thistle, birth, box elder, oak, poplar

Bee image: Shutterstock

 

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