Precious little helpers such as birds, butterflies, bees, beetles and other small wildlife assist in producing the vast majority of our food chain through the process of pollination. By roaming around in our garden, sniffing flowers, and drinking in pollen and nectar, these animals keep our garden productive and bearing fruit. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the bee population due to various reasons, including climate change, diseases, and excessive chemical usage. One of the ways we can help sustain the populations of these wonderful creatures is by planning a habitat for pollinators.
Give them a longer time at the buffet
To attract more pollinators, plan a garden that has a long blooming period throughout the year. Flaunt the colors by planting in drifts (groupings) rather than spacing the plants out individually, to create a beacon for the pollinators with repeating textures and hues.
Besides colors, consider planting single-layered flowers (i.e. pink rose of Sharon) over the hybrid variety of flowers (i.e. sugar tip gold rose of Sharon) to build an adequate supply of nectar and pollen as multi-layered flowers tend to be filled with petals instead. Include flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors to lure busy workers throughout the seasons. The flowers of sweet-scented herbs such as lavender, borage, and rosemary are bee magnets. Tubular shaped flowers such as red valerian attract hummingbirds to drink while still flying with vibrating wings.
Some nocturnal animals such as moths and bats take over the pollination night shift. Pale or white-colored flowers give the most fragrance to attract these laborers under the moonlight.
Provide what they like to eat
Having native plants in your garden is ingenious as they adapt to the local climate and can survive with far less water, money and time. A word of caution as some tend to spread by rhizomes underground, or through their own natural reseeding or re-rooting process. Diligent pruning, and installation of in-ground barriers ahead of planting, will reduce their footprint. Or to make it easier on yourself, adopt the concept of container gardening which inhibits growth when needed, and provides a portable plant with very easy maintenance.
Ensure your chosen plant is not on the state’s noxious weed list before buying. Mock orange, serviceberry, rhododendron, yarrow, and dogwood are some of the well-known native plant species in the Pacific Northwest.
It is a concern for some that having a native garden would create a messy look for your yards. You can just as well add some non-native pollinator-loving flora such as crocosmia, hardy fuchsia and dahlia to create the look you prefer.
Don’t inadvertently kill them
Prioritize a chemical-free garden to call in the little creatures for healthy dining. Deficiencies such as a lack of nitrogen (causes yellowing in leaves) in the soil may lead gardeners to add artificial fertilizers. But when artificial fertilizers get absorbed by the plant, it can be detrimental to the pollinators who feed on them. A nutrient-rich soil can be achieved naturally by mixing in compost, grass clippings, ash and other organic plant material. Steer manure also supplies nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to the soil that is not only essential for vegetation to thrive, but also helps to break down compacted soils.
Creepy crawlies in the garden are not all unwanted. Some are great allies for keeping the pests from destroying our hard work. A few serious gardeners even buy ladybugs in the hundreds, due to their insatiable appetite for aphids that can cause growth defects in plants.
If you must use a pesticide, spray when there is low pollinator activity, such as at night, and follow all directions on the package. Target the needed area only, rather than spraying a wide area. Recycle leaves and grass clippings into mulch for weed prevention. This mix will subsequently break down into organic matter over time. No other artificial weed killers are necessary.
As our summer unfolds, observe, listen and plant. While taking a walk in the neighborhood, watch for activity throughout the day and let your ideas formulate on which plants and areas get most visited by pollinators. Warmer days bring greater action, and what better time than now to learn about our backyards as most of us are at home. There is no fixed, pedantic approach to building a garden, but doing what brings you joy and less harm to the environment is a win-win.