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Bumblebee on Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ in the Urban Meadow at BBG

Planning – and Planting – for Pollinators

By Cynthia Welte

Home gardeners can do a lot for pollinator species by providing access to shelter, food, water, and nesting space. The Urban Meadow at the Bellevue Botanical Garden is an example of a pollinator-friendly planting. Next time you walk at the Garden, look at the plants and layout for ideas for your garden.

Urban and suburban gardens are not too small to create habitat! Many pollinators have a small range, so you probably have enough space in your yard to support a variety of species. Also, insects don’t care about property lines, and neighboring yards may have some of these features that you can enhance or play off in your own garden.

These are elements that you can include in your garden to encourage pollinators:

  • Plant a variety of flower types, shapes and colors. Some insects prefer ray and disk flowers, while others like complex flowers like salvia. The pdf linked at the end of this article has a chart showing what attracts various pollinators.
    Choose single flowers. Double flowers often don’t provide access to pollen or nectar, and in many cases, don’t even have them.
  • Plan for long bloom seasons. Insects are active from early spring to late fall. Maples bloom early, as do dandelions. For fall, grow asters, California poppy, Fuchsias, and plants in the mint family.
  • Group species together. Swaths are visible from a distance and keep insects in one place for a longer time.
  • Include native plants. Native insects are attracted to native plant species. Growing a variety of native and non-native plants will be much appreciated by your insect friends.
  • Provide a water source like puddles, a bird bath, or a small dish with rocks and water. Make sure the sides of the water source are sloped for access. Areas of bare earth that pool water are excellent sources of water and minerals for butterflies.
  • Think about shelter and nesting sites. Bumble bees, sweat bees, miner bees, and others nest in the ground, so they require undisturbed soil for their nests. Ornamental grasses have dense crowns which provide protection for eggs, larvae, and pupae. Brush piles provide safe shelter as well. Leave some dead wood in trees and shrubs for wood-nesters.
  • Avoid pesticides, as they can be highly toxic to pollinators. If you must use them, target applications and don’t spray on plants that are currently blooming.
  • Cultivate an aesthetic that allows for imperfections. Leaf cutter bees and butterfly larva make holes in leaves. You can train your mind to see those cut-outs as a sign of a healthy garden that supports bees and butterflies. When you start watching for other life – bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, and birds – you will see those “imperfections” a little differently.

Incorporate any of the above to help provide pollinators with a safe and happy home. Have fun making new friends in the garden!

For more information and ideas on what to plant, this document by the Pollinator Partnership is a wealth of information.


Photo above, Bumblebee on Joe Pye Weed in the Urban Meadow at BBG


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