When planting a garden to provide food for you and your family it is also smart to think about planting your garden for the bees and butterflies as well. Attracting pollinators to your garden not only adds some life and excitement to your plants but it also ensures that your plants will get pollinated. Many edible and ornamental plants rely on pollination and cross-pollination by bees and butterflies, this makes sure that plants will produce fruits and seeds, thus allowing for a better crop for you to enjoy.
When you consider adding plants that bees and butterflies like into your garden it is really very simple, and doesn’t have to be a large undertaking, a container with the right plants is all you really need.
Choosing the Right Plants for Pollinators
When planting a garden for pollinators there are some factors that you need to take into consideration. Bees and butterflies generally like single flower plants, these include flowers like daisies, echinacea and black eyed Susan, flowers with one ring of petals. These types of flowers produce more nectar and make it easier for bees to get to the pollen.
Another thing to take into consideration is if the flowers you are planting are hybrids. Generally hybrid plants have been modified to not seed therefore they have less nectar and pollen. We moved into our current home a year ago, where there were beautiful perennial flower beds already in place. Some of the flowers that were planted the bumblebees would be in all day, while the same plant in a different color they would ignore. This showed me that the flower was probably a hybrid, while it is very pretty the bees just don’t like it.
When possible try to plant flowers that are native to your area; lots of native pollinators have a specific relationship to the native plants and won’t visit your garden if those plants aren’t available.
While bees and butterflies prefer single flowers it is also important to vary the shape of your flowers. By doing this you will increase the number of different pollinators visiting your garden. Some different flower shapes to consider are bowl-shaped, flat and tubular.
The next step is to plan your garden to have flowers year round. If you’re able, try to plant three different types of flowers to allow pollinators a place to forage all season. Below I’ve listed some ideas for flowers to use in each season.
Spring: crocus, hyacinth, calendula and borage
Summer: bee balm, echinacea, foxglove, snapdragons, bachelor buttons and hosta
Late summer: zinnia, seedum, asters and goldenrod
Adding Inviting Elements to the Garden
After thinking about your flowers and the design or your pollinator container or garden bed you can start to think about other elements that bees and butterflies would enjoy while they are out foraging.
Shelter: One way to provide shelter is to leave a place in your garden with bare dirt. This allows native burrowing bees a place to make their home. You can also add things like insect or butterfly boxes. Many garden stores make insect boxes specifically for you to add to your garden. You can also make something similar yourself, if you’d like to make it yourself try to use materials with different size openings or use different drill bits to create holes in a material for the varying preferences of the pollinators.
Water: Adding a shallow bee and butterfly bath gives them a place to get a drink or clean off while they are out foraging. When thinking about your bee or butterfly bath make sure to use a shallow saucer or make an intentional shallow puddle in the garden, add some leaves and twigs around the water to give the insects a place to land while they get a drink.
Use Natural Pesticides
I’m not one to use pesticides in my garden generally but if you do decide to use a pesticide try to make it a natural one. Some things to keep in mind if using pesticides;
- Do a little research on the pest and opt for a method of removal that doesn’t involve pesticides first if possible.
- One example of this I’ve done before is aphids on a young apple tree. I noticed a lot of ants on the leaves of my apple tree mid summer and lots of small green masses. Turns out ants were raising aphids! I had no idea this even happened, but the ants were raising and protecting the aphids to eat once they got fat and juicy filled with the leaves of my apple tree. The first method I tried that ended up solving the problem was simply spraying the aphids and ants with the water from the hose. Now I used a gentle spray so I wouldn’t damage the tree but I was able to spray the majority of the aphids off. The ones I missed I simply squished as soon as I saw them so they wouldn’t spread.
- Use a trusted pesticide that works on contact, rather than penetrating the plant. Talk with your local garden store representative about the best options available.
- Apply pesticides in the early evening as activity slows down around your garden.
- Try to target your pests directly rather than spraying everything unnecessarily.
Relish in the Addition to Your Garden
After designing and planting your bee and butterfly garden you should have months of enjoyment watching them visit your flowers. You will also reap the benefits of having the pollinators in your vegetable garden if you have some vegetables growing nearby. Providing a place, no matter how small, is extremely helpful and important for the bee and butterfly populations. These pollinators will rely on this source of food all season as long as they know it’s there.
I would love to hear about your pollinator gardens as well, what flowers did you choose?