The terms “pollinator” and “pollinator-friendly gardens” are popular today, and with good reason. But what do they mean and how do they translate to actions that home gardeners can take?
According to pollinator.org, pollinators, “including bees, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps, beetles and other small mammals that pollinate plants, are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat.”
While this is impressive, it is not a recent finding. In 1996, in their book The Forgotten Pollinators, co- authors Stephen Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan estimated that “animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one-third of human food crops.
Pollinators — especially bees (there are over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States) — have been affected by habitat loss, disease, and pesticide use. As home gardeners, we can create a haven for pollinators by eliminating the use of chemicals in our gardens and creating habitats that will attract pollinators and support wildlife. This in turn leads to a healthy ecosystem.
If you are a gardener, it’s likely you’ve seen pollination in process if you’ve observed insects visiting flowers to drink nectar or feed on pollen. Nectar, a food source, is mostly a solution of sugars, but also has traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils.
When a bee moves from flower to flower in search of nectar, it carries pollen grains from the anther (the male part of a flower) to the stigma (the female part of the flower). This is the start of the process that results in the production of seeds and fruits and the next generation of plants. Pollination also happens through self-pollination, as well as by wind and water.
Insects and animal pollinators are drawn to certain plants more than others. For this reason, your plant choices in your own garden can make a difference. Here are some ways you can attract and support pollinators.
1. Plant and encourage native flowering plants.
2. Plant both host and nectar plants. A host plant provides a place for butterflies and moths to lay eggs and then the plant becomes a source of food for the caterpillars before they become butterflies. Certain butterflies require a particular species of host plant.
3. Remove invasive plants which crowd out natives.
4. Plant groups of a single flower species in the same area. This reduces the energy required for foraging.
5. Plant a diversity of species (at least 5-10 different species, to attract a greater number of pollinators.
6. Choose plants for every season and make sure something is always blooming.
7. Provide pollinator nesting sites. Leave areas with dead logs, leaves and water if possible. This will provide habitat and shelter for certain species including ground nesting bees and other insects.
By planting a garden for pollinators, you can make a positive impact on your community, provide habitat for insects and wildlife and have a beautiful garden that offers blooms for every season.
Perennials that bring pollinators
Here are some plants you can use to attract pollinators to your garden. The pollinators that are attracted to each type of plant are listed and if the plant is also a host plant, that is indicated.
Eastern Bluestar (Amsonia tabermontana) provides blue flowers in April and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It also is a host.
Eastern Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata var. pulchra) blooms with pink flowers from July to September and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies and is a host plant.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) provides orange flowers from May to August (and may rebloom in the fall). It attracts butterflies and honeybees and is a host plant.
Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) sprouts blue flowers in April and May. It attracts butterflies and bees and is a host.
Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) produces yellow flowers in March, April and May. It attracts bees and flies.
Lobed Coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata) produces golden yellow flowers in April, May and June and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillate) provides yellow flowers from May to July and attracts butterflies, syrphid flies, honeybees.
Hairy Sunflower (Helianthus resinosus) grows lemon yellow flowers from June to September and attracts bees and butterflies.
American Alumroot (Heuchera americana) produces white flowers from April to June and attracts hummingbirds and sweat bees.
Piedmont Smooth Phlox (Phox glaberrima) yields pink flowers from April to June, attracts butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and is a host.
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), a biennial that reseeds freely, grows yellow-orange flowers from September to frost and attracts butterflies and birds.
Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora) produces yellow flowers from July to October and attracts butterflies, bees, beetles. It is also a host.
Shrubs and Trees
Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) produces red flowers from March to April, and attracts hummingbirds and bees.
Oak-leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), produces white flowers from May to July and attracts flies and wasps.
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) produces white flowers in April and May and attracts butterflies and bees. It also is a host.
American Holly (Ilex americana) produces tiny white flowers in April, May and June. It attracts bees.
Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens) — there are lots of varieties of native azaleas to try — grows pink flowers in April and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It also is a host.
Rabbit eye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) grows white to light pink flowers and attracts bumblebees.