Now you might not think about pollinators straight off when you think about gardening. After all, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds have always been part of the background of our gardens. But wildlife habitats are disappearing as our world becomes more developed. Since 80 percent of crop plants around the world require pollination, it’s vital we bring back some of the environment these pollinators need to thrive.

Bee in flower

Bees love a wide variety of plants. This bumblebee laps up the nectar from a weigela shrub.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Butterfly

Many shrubs and plants attract butterflies and bees early in the season for the flower nectar and pollen. When the fruit ripens, it’s mealtime for the birds!

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Pollinator paradise

Drifts of colorful flowers produce a beautiful garden and feed the widest range of pollinators.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Asclepias and bee

Asclepias tuberosa is only one of the many milkweeds to attract pollinators.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

As luck would have it, the same gardening practices that attract and help wildlife also improve our air, water and soil quality. It only takes a few plants and some forethought to create a habitat for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds – here’s how you can attract these wonderfully helpful creatures to your own garden.

First a bit about the plants: You’ll need a spot in your yard that gets at least six hours of sun a day for your little garden – even if it’s just a few feet for a couple of containers. (Don’t worry – if you’ve only got shade, there are still some choices that prove crucial to beneficial birds and insects.) If you’ve got limited space, considering gardening skyward by using the vertical space of walls and fences to grow vines like honeysuckle, Virginia creeper and Ampelopsis. Even planting a hanging basket or two attracts pollinators.

Some other points to keep in mind:

  • Select a wide variety of plants to provide bloom from early spring into late fall. Plant clusters of each type if possible. Include a variety of flower shapes. Hummingbirds prefer red tubular flowers, while butterflies are drawn to more open-faced yellow and purple flowers, as well as herbs like dill, thyme, oregano and parsley. Bees like a wider selection of flower shapes and types and are especially lured by calamint.
  • Choose native plants for your region – they’re four times more attractive to pollinators.
  • Think airy, floating gardens (like hanging planters, dangling vines or tall plants) for attracting hummingbirds – and make sure the plantings aren’t crowded. These little birds need space to flutter their wings 75 beats per second!
  • Provide water. Most pollinators like shallow pools or bird baths – and especially mud puddles (which provide important minerals).
  • Provide host plants for caterpillars. Colorful butterflies need plants for egg-laying. Yes, the caterpillar babies will eat the leaves, but this is essential for the perpetuation of butterflies. One of the most common larval plants is milkweed.
  • Remove invasive plant species – they tend to displace the necessary pollinator plants.
  • Leave some of the garden cleanup until spring for overwintering insects. Remove and destroy diseased plants, but leave hollowed-out stems for beneficial insects, and leave ornamental grasses for bird protection in winter.
  • Avoid using pesticides. Many – particularly those containing carbamates – are a danger to bees.

To make your garden more sustainable, mulch your beds, reduce the amount of lawn in your landscape, collect rainwater and encourage beneficial insects (AKA, pest predators) to visit. Pollinators – and all wildlife – benefit more when native plant communities remain intact or are restored to their natural habitats. With very little maintenance, your pollinator garden will be a welcome haven for all kinds of insects and birds, while adding beauty and sustainability to your life.