Did you plant a pollinator garden only to find out that the butterflies and bees didn’t come? Nobody wants to go to the trouble of creating a buffet only to find that no one eats. So here’s some tips to figure out why your pollinator garden doesn’t have many butterflies and bees. Let’s make this year different!
Why Pollinator Gardens?
Before we talk about how to attract more pollinators, perhaps we should talk about why we even bother. First, since butterflies and bees like flowers, pollinator gardens are usually lovely to look at. They make us happy. When we bring the flowers inside, they spread cheer indoors too.
Most importantly though, pollinators are losing habitat to manicured lawns, pesticide use, disease, urbanization, pollution, and invasive, non-native species. They are having to travel further and further to find food. Their numbers and health are challenged by the use of chemicals.
Pollination happens when butterflies, bees, moths, wasps, hummingbirds, bats, and ants transport pollen from flower to flower. If these animals didn’t do this, about one third of the crops we eat couldn’t survive! So, when the numbers of pollinators decline, our whole ecosystem suffers. Life literally depends upon the pollinators.
What Do Butterflies and Bees Like?
So let’s talk about what butterflies and bees like. Butterflies and bees feed on nectar and pollen. They like brightly colored and sweet smelling flowers. Butterfly larva eat other plants like dill, fennel and milkweeds. So a successful garden will contain both nectar, pollen, and the plants that the larva can eat.
Some favorites are: Ajuga, Allium, Alyssum, Aster, Bee balm, Begonia, Black Eyed Susan, Borage, Butterfly bush, Calendula, Canna, Clover, Columbine, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dandelion, Daylily, Delphinium, Dianthus, Echinacea, Fennel, Four O’clock, Foxglove, Globe thistle, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Hyssop, Lavender, Liatris, Lupine, Marigold, Mint, Mullein, Musk mallow, Nasturtium, Oregano, Phlox, Queen Anne’s lace, Rosemary, Sage, Scabiosa, Skullcap, Shasta daisy, Sneezeweed, Stonecrop, Thrift, Verbena, Violet, Yarrow, and Zinnia.
Trees that pollinators enjoy: Almond, American Elm, Crepe Myrtle, Dogwood, Hawthorn, Holly, Magnolia, Oak, Tupelo, Yellow Poplar, and fruit trees.
Mix In Annuals and Non-invasive Non-Natives
While most ecologically conscious gardeners like to stick to native species, if you want your pollinators to eat all year long, consider non-invasive non-native and annual plants. Many of these are early bloomers. Many bloom all season long, so they extend the feeding season and cover periods when food would otherwise be scarce. This means that hibernating creatures can go to dormancy with fuller bellies and have a greater chance of survival. The diversification may also attract more pollinators to your garden.
Keep It Organic
I don’t want to take for granted that we all know that pesticides and weed killers have a deadly impact on plants, animals, and humans. Even some organic products are deadly to bees, so educate yourself. Choose hand weeding and other methods to keep plants healthy. If you must use something to keep pests away, do it when the bees are not on open blooms.
Insects need safe places to shelter. Artificial nesting boxes (mason bees, bats), wild areas, dead tree trunks, and wild, uncut grass can provide places for them to live. These are wild creatures. The human desire for order and perfection takes away their natural habitat. Relax.
Give Them Food and Water
A bird waterer is a great way to ensure that everyone has water. Just be sure to change it regularly to discourage mosquitoes! Male butterflies consume minerals from the soil, so giving them mud puddles helps them to survive. If you’re feeling generous, you can cut up fruit to leave for them. The smell attracts visitors. Once they are aware that food is present, they will tell others and return. Just put a smaller plate inside a larger one. Fill the larger one with water to create a moat. This will keep the ants out.
Creating a pollinator garden is a great way to beautify your living space and give back to creatures who give us life. If you follow these tips, butterflies and bees will be all over the place in no time. Let us know how it goes or send pictures!