Winter has been around long enough and we’re already itching for spring to come. We hope it’s not too early to start talking about gardening. The bees have been a big topic lately as you may have heard. The world is starting to recognize the importance of the bees to global survival. Headlines such as the one below are notoriously filling newsfeeds.
One of the frustrating things about seeing environmental issues bombard our social media accounts is the helplessness and the feeling of wanting to do more. A pollinator garden is a way that you can do your part to help pollinators, meanwhile creating something beautiful and even has benefits for your own health. Its the perfect positive feedback loop. Gardening reduces stress, improves our microbiome by interacting with living organisms in the soil and helps us to feel connected to nature, all while contributing to the survival of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds as well as many plant species and animals. Below are some key attributes to consider when creating your pollinator garden this spring.
Variety is key
Ther are many different species of pollinators. The honey bee naturally shines as the sweetest of all the bee’s but there are many other species of bees and other pollinators. There are some 4,000 species of native bees to North America, which vary in size from a few millimetres to as large as a few centimetres! Their variety in size matches their variety in habits and plant preferences. Some prefer specific flowers while others prefer a broad array of plants. Not to mention there are other pollinators besides bees including butterflies and hummingbirds. The best pollinator gardens include a mixture of plants for a mixture of species.
Types of Flowers
A variety of local, heirloom or wildflowers are usually good places to start. Plants that have been breed to be eye-catching to the human eye are often barren of pollen or difficult to access for pollinators. Double flower varieties of flowers are perfect examples of these. Their many petals prevent pollinators from accessing any pollen and are often lacking in pollen or nectar, to begin with. Double flower plants include lilac, camellia, carnations, petunias and peonies. Bees and pollinators eat nectar and pollen so choose plants that are good sources of both of these.
We recommend choosing some flowers with big landing pas such as baptisia, lupines, and many members of the pea and bean family. As well as flowers with many small flowers which many tiny native bees love. These include such as goldenrod, oregano, angelica, daisy type flowers, shasta daisies, sunflowers, coreopsis, and black-eyed Susans. A variety of flowers also helps to ensure you’ll have food for pollinators early and late in the season, to support them when resources are scarce. Early blooming flowers include nepeta, and spring-flowering shrubs like shrub dogwoods, blueberries, and serviceberries. Goldenrod, asters, and certain sedums will provide pollen for pollinators later in the season.
Plants with hollow stems are great for many native bee species who are solitary insects. They like to build chambers in small holes in the ground or in follow plant stems. This is also where they like to take shelter over the winter, which is key to keeping bee’s supported. Key plants to include to your pollinator garden include bee balm, raspberry brambles, coneflowers, elderberries, mountain mint, goldenrod and ironweed.
Let it grow wild
Let your garden grow wild to as closely as possible mimic the conditions nature provides to natural landscapes. Select plants that are low maintenance. It helps pollinators if gardeners don’t have to continually prune, fuss and otherwise care for the plants. The less the garden is disturbed the better. It is also important to avoid plants that are prone to disease and pests, which can also harm pollinators. The more wild and natural state your garden the more natural shelters are available for pollinators. ‘Cleaning up’ your garden is like bulldozing your pollinator’s homes and hiding spots. Leave twigs and leaves on the ground rather than clean them up. Butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects like to lay eggs in fallen leaves and other shelters. Avoid mulching, which involves spreading a layer of material, such as compost, manure, straw or grass over your soil to help retain moisture and add nutrients. Bees and other insects like to burrow in holes in the ground however and mulching prevents their ability to access their homes so leave some patches of the ground bare for them.
Provide a source of water. Bee’s hummingbirds and butterflies get thirsty so provide small mud puddles, which allow pollinators a mineral-filled drink to keep them energized and hydrated. An unmoving bee is often in need of a drink and something sweet. With plentiful water and nectar, your pollinators will be able to prosper.
Plant where you can
Even if you don’t have much space, perhaps just a patio or room for potted plants, following these recommendations for your space still can help to make a difference. If many people all utilize their spaces for pollinators they have the power to make a difference together. Share this article with a friend or family member who might be interested in creating their own pollinator garden this season.