Calling all pollinating insects: FREE FOOD!!

It can be a sight to behold; creating your own butterfly garden plants, as well as the best flowers for bees. But let’s begin by understanding what a pollinator garden is.

A pollinator garden is essentially a garden that is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a range of pollinating insects, but a less known side-effect is that the pollinator garden design is an ecosystem in itself that promotes plant growth.

How is this possible? Well, other than bees and butterflies, there are insects that can help spread plant seeds. In fact, here are 7 of them.

POLLINATING INSECTS:

  • Wasps (The Tarantula Hawk Wasp. Jeez, just the sound of that!)

It is actually due to the lack of body hair that they are less efficient than their bee cousins. Still, some wasps do visit flowers and are still productive at the job.

  • Ants

Since they can’t fly, ants walk from flower to flower. Any pollen exchange conducted by ants will be limited to a small population of plants. Though rare, it still occurs.

  • Flies

Though they are annoying in many scenarios, flies are particularly essential and efficient pollinators. This is especially true in environments where bees are less active, such as in alpine or arctic habitats.

  • Midges

Every bite of chocolate we eat starts off as seeds in pods that grow on Theobroma cacao, a tree whose name translates to “cacao, food of the gods.” We have the Midges to thank for this!

  • Mosquitoes

No, blood is not their only meal! In fact, only the females blood-suck, and only when they have to lay eggs! A mosquito’s favourite food is nectar. Males drink sugary flower nectar to energise themselves for their swarming flights when they prepare to search for mates.

  • Moths

Because most moths are nocturnal, butterflies seem to get all the credit for pollination. But this family works its fair-share of workload as well!

  • Beetles

While there are many species of beetle and millions of individuals, there were only four Beatles. The former is a veteran in visiting flowers while the latter are veterans at wooing women with them. Beetles began in ancient times; dating back to even 150 million years ago. That is a good 50 million years earlier than bees, and 50 million and 60 years earlier than the rock band!

Moving on.

DESIGNING THE GARDEN:

Since pollinators thrive on pollen and flower nectars, designating an area of the real estate strictly for the garden is essential. The land space does not necessarily have to be huge, but it should receive about 6 hours of sun a day and, ideally, be filled with a multitude of grasses, trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

However, consider growing the pollinator garden plants in containers filled with rich, well-drained soil if your space is limited.

The general idea is to fill up the area with a variety of plants, rather than a bunch of the same genus. This method creates a greater “playing field” for the insects, thus attracting a diverse set of species. Here is a rough guide as to which plants/flowers attract butterflies, bees, and moths:

Plants Butterflies Love:

  • Alcea rosea
  • Hollyhock Helianthus
  • Sunflower Chrysanthemum maximum
  • Shasta Daisy Lobularia maritima
  • Sweet Alyssum Aster
  • Aster Rudbeckia hirta
  • Black-eyed Susan or Gloriosa Daisy Coreopsis
  • Coreopsis Cosmos
  • Cosmos Dianthus
  • Dianthus Echinacea Purpurea
  • Purple Coneflower Rosa
  • Roses Verbena Bonariensis
  • Verbena Tagetes
  • Marigold Zinnis Elegans
  • Zinna Phlox
  • Phlox

Flowers Bees Love:

  • Catmint Flower

Having well-behaved varieties that don’t reseed and colonise the garden rewards you with blue flowers that top silvery foliage all season long.

  • Calendula Flower

A.K.A “pot marigold.” It thrives in colder temperatures.

  • Bee Balm Flower

It is a favourite of not only bees but also hummingbirds and butterflies.

  • Sedum Flower

These are heat and drought tolerant plants, preferably grown in full sun for best results.

  • Lavender

One of its appeals: The leaves and flowers are fragrant. Lavender’s silvery leaves will persist in mild winters adding to the winter garden’s beauty.

  • Borage Flower

The bright blue star-shaped flowers of borage stand out in the garden. You may even eat the cucumber-flavoured leaves raw, steamed, or sautéed.

  • Foxglove Flower

Best for those gardeners with shady spaces and moist, organic soils.

  • Crocus Flower

Grow these small early bloomers in full sun or partial shade. Planting crocus in bulk will make an impact in the garden.

  • Anise Hyssop Flower

Produces spikes of blue flowers above anise-scented leaves in late summer.

  • Heliotrope Flower

Its fragrance will attract insects, and probably you as well! Plus, it’s a beautiful view for the landscape.

Plants and Flowers Moths Love:

  • Hickory
  • Plum
  • Maple
  • Sweet bay
  • Persimmon
  • Birch
  • Sumac
  • Walnut
  • Apple
  • Oak
  • Peach
  • Pine
  • Sweetgum
  • Willow
  • Cherry
  • Dogwood

THINGS BEST KEPT IN MIND

  • Diversity

Creating a pollinator friendly garden is all about variety. Using a diverse selection of plants helps pollinators find and use them by planting in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators.

  • Shelter

When cold winds blow, not all plants might be as resistant as others. Create refuge from prevailing cold wind. Use flowering hedges or hedges of native hedgerow shrubs. These will create warm ‘micro-habitats’ within the garden. Hedges are better than fences at protecting gardens from the wind.

This also serves as a pseudo-hiding-spot from predators!

  • Pesticide (avoiding thereof)

Minimise or outright eliminate the use of pesticides. If insect pests, such as aphids, become a problem, there are organic methods to control them. Pests are rarely a problem anyway, in a nature-friendly garden. They tend to be controlled by birds and other natural predators.

  • A flower-succession plan for the whole growing season

If the climate in your area has long growing seasons, some types of pollinating insects will be able to manage breeding two or more generations. They’ll need pollen or nectar from early spring until autumn to do this successfully.

  • Group flowers of the same kind

Many insects can only use particular types of flowers. By planting their favourite kinds of flowers together in large groups (a.k.a. “drifts”), you make exploiting and locating that resource easier for them.

IT’S NOT THAT HARD

Creating a pollinator garden can be an enjoyable and fruitful endeavour. You might stumble at first and get frustrated, but you will always have this guide to go back to. Plant a diverse selection of plants/flowers and don’t forget that the location must still be hit by the rays of the sun.

Group together similar classes. As a quick tip, if the horizontal real estate poses a challenge, you may plant vertically via the fences or walls of your home. You can use vine hangers for this. And always enable a protective feature for your garden to protect the insects from harsh weather conditions and/or potential predators.

Also, ensure that pollinators will have something to forage from spring through fall. Do this by selecting various natives that flower at different times throughout the growing season. For this, knowledge about how to improve garden soil quality for maximum plant growth will be a huge bonus!

Finally, choosing different colours and shapes will also be a good idea, as they attract an assortment of insects of different sizes and habits. Even knowing how to care for succulents to add to your garden will create a positive impact.