7 Native Gardening Tips to Attract and Sustain Pollinators
Variety Is the Spice of Life
Plant a variety of native flowers and grasses to attract butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinators. Native plants support three times as many butterfly and moth species as non-native plants. Plant in clumps of at least 5 stems so bees and butterflies don’t have to travel too far to feed or gather pollen, and try to choose species so that something is flowering throughout the entire growing season.
Don’t Forget the Caterpillars
If you want to attract butterflies, plant the flowers their caterpillars depend on as well as the ones adults take nectar from. For example, monarch caterpillars feed on different species of native milkweed like common and butterfly milkweed. The caterpillars of blue butterflies like the eastern-tailed blue feed on lupine, and fritillary caterpillars eat violets. Many sulphurs dine on purple prairie clover and swallowtails eat wild plum and black cherry. Scatter these plants throughout your garden so predators have a harder time finding your caterpillars.
Go Natural with Nesting
Nest boxes for native bees have become popular, but unless you are rigorous about cleaning and disinfecting them, you could end up spreading diseases. Instead, leave some bare, unmulched ground near flowering plants that ground-nesting native bees can use. They prefer sandy, loamy soil rather than clay or silt. Leave about 15 inches of some of your flowering stalks standing from the previous year for cavity-nesting bees.
Hummingbirds Are Pollinators Too
Hummingbirds like this female black-chinned hummingbird are also important pollinators. To attract them to your yard, plant tubular flowers, especially red ones. Wild bergamot, penstemon and cardinal flower are good choices.
Let Nature Help: Try Snow-seeding
You can sow native plant seeds in your garden in the winter on top of the snow. Make sure your site is prepped by removing some of the vegetation from the areas where you want to sow seed so there is exposed soil. Choosing a sunny winter day is a good idea. Snow-seeding mimics the way seeds are dropped from vegetation naturally and weathered over the winter. As the seed warms up a little in the sun, it works its way through the snow to the bare soil surface where it will germinate in the spring.
Lazy Does It with the Garden Cleanup
Don’t get too crazy with your fall and spring cleanup. Seed heads like this coneflower provide food for birds and create winter interest in your garden. The plant litter in your garden is where butterfly and moth eggs, caterpillars and chrysalids will spend the winter. Give them a little time in the spring to hatch, pupate and start to move around before you rake off the litter. If you’re going to snow seed, then you’ll want to clear a few areas so you’ll have some bare ground.
Plan Now for Next Spring
Winter is a good time to start planning for next spring. Pull out your plant catalogues or go online and explore the native plants, trees and shrubs available in your area. Find the best plants for the birds, butterflies and bees near you!
Watch our video to see how one Minnesota gardener turned her yard into an oasis for birds, butterflies and a few other critters. Want to stay in touch with us about native gardening and get the latest news on how The Nature Conservancy is protecting native habitats for pollinators and other wildlife near you? Sign up for Great Places News today!