Here are fifteen easy ways to attract pollinators to your yard or garden. Although winter is at its peak, it’s not too soon to start planning for the season to come.
- Plant clover in your lawn. White Dutch clover planted in your lawn will attract dozens of pollinators. In addition, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into a form the grass can use, resulting in a beautiful green lawn without the use of chemical fertilizers.
- Plant at least some native species. Native plants attract native pollinators. Check with your local extension office if you are unsure of what is native. But remember that not all your plantings need to be native, just some.
- Plant herbs. Herbs, especially those in the mint family, are very attractive to pollinators. This family includes thyme, oregano, sage, basil, peppermint, lavender, catnip and rosemary. As an added bonus, you get to use the herbs yourself.
- Select plants with a wide range of bloom times. Native bees need food from spring until fall so plan to have something in bloom all season long.
- Plant larval host plants. Some plants are not considered especially attractive in the garden but are necessary to certain species of pollinators. Milkweed, for instance, is vital to the larval stages of Monarch butterflies. Plant them in an inconspicuous place if you prefer, but have them available for the pollinators.
- Avoid hybrid varieties. Many flowers that have been bred for beauty have lost the nectar or pollen that made them valuable to pollinators. Plants with double or triple rings of petals, or plants with unusual colors or variegated patterns are probably over-hybridized.
- Leave open patches of soil. Many ground-nesting bees need open patches of soil for their homes or for building materials. And remember, the large majority of bee species are ground dwellers. In addition, even some cavity dwellers, like orchard mason bees, need mud for their nests.
- Provide a water source. It doesn’t need to be large or fancy. Just a wet spot under the end of a hose can help the insects. A leaky drip irrigation head works too.
- Avoid excessive mulch. Too much mulch blocks entry to the ground. Ground-burrowing insects often cannot penetrate a heavy layer of mulch.
- Add sea salt or wood ash to a bare patch of earth. Pollinators are often seen collecting minerals from salty or ashy areas. Your patch needn’t be large and it shouldn’t be overworked. If the insects need it, they will find it.
- Provide nesting sites. Collections of reeds or holes drilled in blocks of wood provide great nesting sites. Tubes or blocks should be replaced periodically to limit disease build-up.
- Leave dead trees and reeds standing. If a dead tree can safely be allowed to stand, it should be left as habit for bees, birds, and small rodents. Dead and standing reeds are a favorite of wild bees.
- Leave an unmowed patch of grass and weeds in a protected spot. Tall grass provides protection, shade, and hunting grounds for many species of pollinators. Some pollinators—such as hover flies—feed on insects as well as nectar, so they do best in a place that provides an alternate food source.
- Put a flower pot on every porch . . . and encourage your friends to do the same. The more plants that are available, the healthier our pollinators will be.
- Use no pesticides. Until we reduce dependence on pesticides, items 1-14 are all for naught.