There's nothing like seeing lots of beautiful flowers and an overflowing garden of produce. But what's the secret behind this fruitfulness? That would be where pollinators come in. Most flowering plants depend on bees, butterflies, animals (hummingbirds and bats) and even flies and wasps for pollination.
What is pollination? It's basically the act of moving pollen from the male stamen to the female stigma and fertilizing the plant which then causes it to set seed. Insects and animals help to do this in your garden. Pollinators are called "Keystone Species" because they are species on which other species depend. In other words...if you want zucchini and tomatoes, you want pollinators.
|Calendula flowers in the Garden|
We need pollinators and they need our help. "Pollinators are vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems. They are essential for plant reproduction and produce genetic diversity in the plants they pollinate. The more diverse plants are the better they can adapt to the changes in the environment."1
|An Uncommon Black Parsley Swallowtail Caterpillar. Butterflies are pollinators too.|
How can we attract more pollinators to our gardens?
This is a great question and fairly simple to do. Many gardeners are doing it already without knowing it. I know I began to learn about pollinators after watching them in action in different flower beds.
1. Plant a rich diversity of flowering plants in your flower beds and garden.
Seems like a simple plan but it does help to get some ideas by seeing which plants attract what insects in your garden. I was able to observe this firsthand and found that mints are a huge pollinator attractor. I mean huge. It's worth planting some in a contained area just for this alone. Plant pollinating attracting plants in the garden around the vegetables too. It will give the bees and other insects lots of pollen variety.
Also, by planting diverse plants and flowers, we are offering different sources of nectar (which of course attracts pollinators) and different bloom times which will provide food sources and pollen all season long. Don't forget simple species such as marigolds and classic zinnias. They are always drawing bees as well as butterflies to the garden.
|This pollen-rich Sweet Alyssum attracts a pollinating fly.|
2. Plant lots of native perennial and annual species.
Ever notice that some plants seem to have LOTS of activity around them? These are the species you'll want to plant. In the northeast United States, Echinacea, Bee Balm (Monarda), Gaillardia, Rudebeckias and daisies seem to be big attractors. Don't forget herbs as well. Lavender, thyme and mints are totally loved by bees and other insects alike. I've even seen hummingbirds amongst my sage flowers drinking the nectar...who knew?
|Pollinators include all kinds of bees and wasps.|
3. Don't use pesticides in your garden.
This seems like the easiest step to help out the pollinators...no spraying. I try to garden and plant vegetables and plants that are very insect resistant. If it's very fussy...I won't grow it. If I do ever spray, I use a plant-based biodegradable spray that will break down eventually. Also spraying on a non-windy day helps. I prefer to rarely use any kind of spray though and will hand pick offending insects whenever possible.
|Flowers that have an open petal face are great landing spaces for pollinators including butterflies.|
Habitat loss is one reason for the decline of bees and other insects. So no matter what size space you have, you can plant for the pollinators! A container full of lush zinnias or herbs will create a great resource for them and give them some fast food on their journey.
Planting with pollinators in mind is a win-win situation. You'll be creating a safe micro-environment for them and they will be happily pollinating all your vegetable plants and flowers - perfect.
What plant attracts pollinators the most in your garden?
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