Gardening for Pollinators

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Gardening for Pollinators

Attracting pollinators to the garden is relatively simple. Consider what living creatures need for life: fresh water, food sources and safety.

Include those, and the butterflies, birds, flies, bees, beetles and more will flock to your garden. Understanding the specifics of what pollinators need at what time of year and incorporating those in your garden will also help ensure your edibles produce bountiful fruits, your garden looks and smells fantastic, and the beneficial creature population is not out-weighed by pests.

Begin by appreciating that most of the “pesky bugs” we encounter in a healthy garden are actually beneficials rather than pests. Insecticides used to beat back pest insects won’t discriminate between the good guys and the bad guys; they’ll kill them all. And, unfortunately, it takes significantly more time for the beneficials to repopulate the garden than it does for the pest insects. And, many of those beneficials – from birds to beetles to bees - not only pollinate your plants, but they also act as predators against the pests. If their population is decimated through the use of pesticides, it can be very difficult to regain balance and natural harmony in the garden. Creating a pesticide free habitat creates a safe world for your beneficials.

Once you recognize beneficial pollinators come in many forms, it’s time to begin selecting plants to fit the diets of their various lifecycles. Even many ugly flies are good in the garden – parasitizing caterpillars and cutworms as infants then pollinating flowers like Queen Anne’s Lace as adults. Understanding the lifecycle of each pollinating insect helps gardeners design with plants that attract egg-laying adults looking for a good meal for themselves and their progeny. For instance, gorgeous swallowtail butterflies swarm into gardens planted with fragrant, nectar-rich summer phlox; plus, they can’t resist laying their eggs on swaying summer dill, which feeds their young when they hatch as caterpillars.


If watching nectar-seeking hummingbirds fly through the garden fills you with happiness, add in maples to feed them early in spring, witch hazel for much-needed mid-winter nectar and fuchsia for summer and late fall. Quickly, you’ll find they prefer your flowering plants to any feeders hanging about. Plus, as they fly about sipping nectar, they’ll likely eat up a few aphids and other soft-bodied pest insects along the way!

If your goal is to attract pollinating insects for the purpose of increasing your food production, plant a banquet of their favorite pollen and nectar-rich flowering plants near your veggie garden. Wild bumblebees will make their way to your tomatoes and pumpkins on their own, but to get the honeybees to visit them, you may need to plant lavender, thyme, borage or other favorites of the honeybee nearby. Perennial favorites like Echinacea and rose, which honeybees cannot resist, bloom in-step with summer crops, making fantastic lures to bring the bees toward your crops. This amounts to a bit of garden trickery, but every creature wins!


Lastly, when you’re designing your pollinator garden, don’t forget to include water sources. Insects and birds are drawn to spaces that offer fresh water as well as food. Water sources high off the ground will appear safe and attract songbirds. Sources with twig bridges, cork or glass floats or wet stones will allow bees to safely land, drink and not drown in the process. Of course, be sure the water you provide moves or is changed regularly to stay fresh and to remain free of pesky, disease-carrying mosquitoes. Mosquito larvae prefer to develop in stagnant water, and it takes about four days (or more) for them to hatch after being laid.

Looking for more plant ideas to entice the pollinators to your garden, opt for a few of these easy favorites to get started: sedum, heuchera, dill, maple, rose, apple, Manzanita, Pieris, clematis, fuchsia, peony, cat mint, Mahonia, Ribes, thyme, oregano, borage, strawberry, and blueberry.