Designing Pollinator-Friendly Landscapes
There are thousands of species of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators that help your gardens thrive—and are fun to watch. There are a number of factors that make your landscape more –or less- appealing to pollinators:
- varieties of flowering plants
- layout of the gardens
- groupings of plants
- maintenance practices
Stage Your Garden for Continuous Blooming
It is best to always have something flowering May through October. Select plants with varying bloom cycles, early season to late season. This will provide a constant supply of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. In addition to perennial flowers, there are many flowering trees and shrubs, spring bulbs, and even annuals that are beneficial for butterflies and bees. Our garden managers can give you expert guidance on selecting plants that will adapt well to the conditions on your site, and make the pollinators very happy as well.
Flower Color, Size and Shape: Diversify
The size, shape, and color of flowers determines what types of pollinators will visit your garden. Planting a diverse selection of flowers is the best way to attract a diverse population of pollinators. For example, bees are strongly attracted to purple, yellow, and white flowers. Red flowers, not so much. However, red flowers draw butterflies and hummingbirds like a magnet.
In terms of flower size, small native bees like small flowers such as yarrow or flowers comprised of clusters of tiny florets such as purple coneflower. A variety of flower shapes and sizes in the garden will feed pollinators large and small.
Some moths and butterflies also use garden plants to lay their eggs. In fact, the monarch butterfly will only lay its eggs on the leaves of milkweed. So including host plants such as marsh milkweed, butterfly milkweed, and lupine in your garden design helps support rare butterflies.
Native vs Non-Native Species
Most pollinators prefer the nectar from native plants. There are non-native species that work as well, but incorporating a high percentage native plants into your landscape will make it more attractive pollinators—as well as to birds. Keeping at least 50% native plants should bring a lot more colorful activity into your gardens.
When you purchase plants, ask if they have been treated with a systemic insecticide. This class of insecticides is also known as neonicotinoids. Unlike traditional insecticides that are applied to the plant surface, neonicotinoids are absorbed into the plant’s tissue making the whole plant toxic from its roots into the nectar. High concentrations can be fatal to bees, butterflies, and other insect pollinators. Lower concentrations can interfere with bees’ ability to navigate and find food, and can suppress their immune systems making them vulnerable to parasites.
Make Them Feel at Home
Having the food sources in your garden is one part of the habitat equation. The other is nesting sites. Most bees, for example, nest in burrows in the ground and the rest build their homes in hollowed twigs or pithy stems. So preserving areas of bare soil in sunny locations and minimizing the use of mulch will help ground-nesting bees find homes in your gardens.
If you can tolerate a slightly “messy” landscape, leaving a small brush pile or a few dead bushes around will provide habitat for your pollinating insects. If that’s too much to bear, you could instruct your garden maintenance people to wait until spring to cut back perennials. Leaving them intact over winter provides shelter for pollinators and seed for birds. Or, consider making parts of your lawn bee-friendly by replacing secondary lawn areas with perennial beds or seeding white clover in with the grass.
For more detailed information on bee & butterfly friendly landscaping, visit Pollinator Gardens.org, a well researched and fascinating blog maintained by Annie White.