Pollinator-Friendly Gardens

A Pollinator-Friendly Garden

Article by Pat Zander

Pollinator Attraction

My husband and I have always tried to attract birds to our garden. That meant planting shrubs
and perennials that would be sources of food and shelter, and minimizing the use of pesticides
that might harm.

Then we got a hive of honey bees and found that many of the same principles apply. In
particular, bees need a good and consistent source of pollen and nectar-rich flowers during the
warm season. And being very careful with pesticides is even more critical. As they feed, they
are moving pollen around and fertilizing the flowers. The majority of our food crops need these
busy little critters to accomplish this for them before they can produce seeds or fruit.

At one time, I thought there was nothing more entertaining in the garden than watching a
couple of robins bathe in the fountain. However, watching a bee wiggle her way into a tubular
flower and then wiggle back out, covered with pollen, is right up there too. It is a huge bonus
that I am now more aware of all the other pollinators that come our way. With awareness
comes appreciation. I’ve seen three different species of bumblebees “working” the same
patch of flowers, a tiny bee the size of an ant navigating a Hydrangea bloom, and the delicate
scalloping leafcutter bees make on a rose leaf.

Bee on sedum flower in a pollinator friendly garden
Swallowtail butterfly in a pollinator-friendly xeriscape garden
Bumble bee tucked in a rose in a pollinator-friendly garden
As already mentioned, a consistent food supply is essential. It is important to have a variety of plants that flower at different times throughout the season. The value of providing many different plants at any given time is that pollinators often specialize; what attracts a bumblebee may not be what a honeybee likes. Of course, other insects such as butterflies, moths, flies and beetles do their bit, as do small vertebrates like bats and hummingbirds. Butterflies have long tongues that can get into funnel-shaped flowers, moths go for white flowers that they can see at night, flies are attracted to putrid-smelling flowers and hummingbirds can’t seem to resist red flowers. The flowers may also provide shelter. Honeybees are social, and use the hives we provide them. Bumblebees are social as well, although their colonies are much smaller. Many of the other bees found around here are solitary, which means they live independently of others of their species and don’t tend to return to a central spot at night. These solitary species may very well overnight in one of your flowers. And even social bees can be caught by a sudden rain or wind, and shelter in a flower or under a leaf for the duration.
Water in a pollinator-friendly xeriscape garden
Yes to water, no to pesticides! A source of fresh water helps pollinators of all kinds too. A simple little fountain or birdbath is all it takes. And again, the fewer pesticides the better. If you feel some sort of pesticide is essential, avoid plants in bloom and avoid spraying when pollinators are in the air. Systemic pesticides, including those containing neonicotinoids can be particularly lethal to bees and other pollinating insects. Don’t be in a hurry to cut down everything in your fall cleanup, if you want to keep pollinators around. The earliest foraging bees in the spring can eke out a bit of pollen from last year’s flowers and that’s rich food for the quickly growing spring hive. There is also the sheltering factor to consider.

Some Familiar Easy to Grow Favourites

Early Spring:
Crocus | Glory of the Snow | Pasque Flowers |  Snowdrops |  Tulips | Hazelnut | Pussywillows

Late Spring:
Allium |  Lilac | Saskatoons | Elderberry | Blossoming Berries |  Blossoming Fruit Trees and Shrubs | Oregon grape

Beebalm |  Catmint |  Coneflower |  Dill | Fennel | Globe Thistle | Hyssop |  Jupiter’s Beard | 
Lavender |  Lambs Ears | Mint | Russian Sage | Salvia; | Snapdragons |  Veronica |  Yarrow | Butterfly Bush | Ninebark | Rose of Sharon

Late Summer into Fall:
Autumn Joy Sedum | Sunflowers |  Bluebeard (Caryopteris) | Russian Sage

a pollinator-friendly garden in the Okanagan

I have mentioned only the plants in our garden which I know to be pollinator favourites. There
are hundreds more. A quick search on the internet will provide lists of appropriate choices;
borderfreebees.com is a good one. Also, do check out the plant list and images on OXA’s Pollinator Garden in the UnH2O Demonstration Garden on this site. 

It is also worth noting that native plants are the most appropriate for feeding native insect
species. Bonus that they are really easy on the water.

Living in the Okanagan where fruit growing is an important industry, gives us even more reason
to encourage healthy populations of pollinators.

Oh, and if you happen to have a few dandelions in your lawn, you are serving bee candy. Now
there’s an excuse to avoid hours on your knees digging them out.

As a group blog and forum, we really appreciate your contributions and comments and hope to create a blossoming community of xeriscape gardeners well as a valuable archive of articles.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles