In The Dirt: Pollinator Gardens

Don’t forget the trees. Spring flowering cherries and our native Eastern redbuds attract pollinators.

Planting for Pollinators

By Ray Greenstreet

Pollinators are critical to our environment. For the fruit and seeds of plants to develop, pollen has to be transferred between two flowers of the same species which fertilizes it and enables the production of seeds. This is the work of pollinators. Without them, there would be no seed production and plants could not naturally reproduce. Moreover, US agriculture would be in serious trouble – and so would all of us. It is estimated that at least a third of the crops grown for food in the United States require pollination, and 80 percent of all flowering plants rely on pollinators for survival.

Honeybees are probably the most well-known pollinators. These little buggers are responsible for the production of more than $19 billion in food crops each year. However, they do not go it alone; bats, birds, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and even small mammals are all pollinators.

Today scientists are waving a red flag, concerned about the serious threats to pollinators and their habitats. As native vegetation is replaced by roadways, manicured lawns, crops and non-native gardens, pollinators lose the food and nesting sites that are necessary for their survival. Many pollinators are migratory – and increased development means they have to travel further and further to reach their destination, putting enormous stress on the pollinator and in cases, threatening their survival.

Pollinators love purple coneflower. This lovely perennial is adaptable to moist or dry gardens and containers, it blooms throughout the season, and as an bonus, finches flock to feed on its seed-heads.

ALEXANDRIA, VA- We can take steps in our yards, gardens, and neighborhoods to create pollinator-friendly habitats to enable and sustain healthy populations of these critters that are crucial to our survival.

A pollinator garden can be grown just about anywhere – from pots and flower boxes to flowerbeds and meadows. Pollinators are attracted to flowers by their color and scent, not by where they are planted. Choose plants that flower at different times of the year to provide nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season. Plant smaller plants, like perennials or annuals, in clumps (3 or more of each plant) rather than a single plant to better attract pollinators. Go with a variety of flower colors and shapes to attract different pollinators. Flowers with bright colors, especially blue, yellow, red, and violet, are attractive to pollinators, and during the night, flowers fragrances are alluring.

And don’t forget trees and shrubs – like maples, redbuds, roses and crape myrtles. Pollinators need water for survival and providing a source of water for them means they don’t have to travel as far to get a drink. This reduces their stress and increases the time available for pollination. A bird bath or dish of water set in a shady area is all that’s needed. Give insects a place to land – place corks that will float on the surface or rocks that provide a surface just above water level. Cleaning and refilling the water bowl on a regular basis will help keep it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

If possible, keep a few areas of your yard “wild” – such as along a hedge row or other edge habitat that isn’t heavily used. This allows pollinators to make their homes without being disturbed. If you do not have much yard space – or none at all – create “pollinator pots” with flowering perennials and annuals.

Hardy blue Baptisia is a win/win for the garden: The late spring/early summer blue blossoms attract pollinators AND adds a beautiful accent to the landscape.

Overzealous pesticide use, especially in yards in urban areas, contributes to the decline of pollinators, so applying any pesticide should be done sparingly, and only after researching what the least harmful varieties are for your situation. Use these products only when necessary, and use the minimum amount required to be effective.

Here are a few suggestions of trees, shrubs and flowers that attract pollinators and do well in our area:

Trees and shrubs:

Blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries

Crabapple

Crape Myrtles

Fruit Trees

Laurel

Linden

Maples

Oaks

Roses

Redbuds

Viburnum

Willows

Perennials and Annual Flowers:

Aster

Bee balm

Black Eye Susan

Cardinal flower

Coneflower

Cosmos

Fuchsia

Geranium

Lantana

Lavender

Mint (best planted in a container!)

Nasturtium

Phlox

Sage

Shasta Daisy

Sunflower

Verbena