Planting a pollinator garden is a fun way to beautify your home while attracting bees to your yard. These unique gardens use a variety of flowering plants to create small-scale wildlife habitats, and they’re perfect for both urban and rural settings.
People who are used to avoiding bees for fear of a sting might be confused about why attracting bees is a good thing. Not only are bees mostly harmless, but they’re also important to have around. Bees are responsible for pollinating all kinds of flowering plants. Without pollination, many of those plants could be at risk of disappearing. Plants that rely on bees for pollination include fruit and nut trees, berries, and vegetables, as well as native flowering plants. Bees help increase farmers’ yields and, in some cases, are responsible for the crop existing at all. In fact, it’s estimated that one in three bites of food we eat required a bee for pollination.
Unfortunately, bee populations are declining. Habitat loss and pesticide use are major drivers of the diminishing honey bee and native bee populations, and they’re also the areas where the average person can make the biggest difference.
Enter pollinator gardens, miniature patches of wildlife habit that offer safe sources of food, shelter, and water for foraging bees, butterflies, and birds. While planting a garden may seem like a small measure, it makes a big difference for struggling pollinator species.
To start gardening for pollinators, you’ll need a garden site that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day, located somewhere you can easily water. You can plant directly into the ground, in raised beds, or in containers. If you choose to plant in-ground, you may need to add compost before planting.
Choosing the right plants is the most important part of designing a pollinator garden. Pollinators need nectar- and pollen-rich flowers to feed on. Since many hybrid flowers are bred for appearance to the detriment of pollen or nectar, wildflowers are a better choice than showy cultivars like the double-flowered dahlia.
Bees need food sources in spring, summer, and fall, so choose several varieties of flowering plants to provide consistent blooms throughout the growing season. Purchase plants with different flower shapes and sizes to attract a wide variety of pollinator species, and plant in clumps to make flowers easy to find. Incorporate perennial plants like fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and berry bushes to create diversity in the garden. Choose evergreen species — that is, plants that keep foliage year-round — to keep your garden lush even in the off-season.
On top of abundant flowering plants, a pollinator garden also needs water and shelter in order to function as a bee habitat. A simple birdbath with stones or corks for bees to stand on makes an effective water source, but it can become a mosquito breeding ground if left stagnant. Consider installing a moving water feature like a fountain or take precautions to deter mosquitos.
Shelter is equally simple. While becoming a backyard beekeeper is certainly an option, most bee species are solitary and have much simpler nesting needs. Rather than making hives, most native bees nest in the ground or in cavities in trees and plants. Leaving a patch of bare dirt and allowing dead plants to remain lets you incorporate shelter with minimal effort.
Finally, never spray pesticides in the garden. Instead, turn to spray-free pest control methods like companion planting, beneficial insects, and manual removal to control unwanted garden insects. Plant densely to prevent weeds from taking over, and reconsider your approach to weeds: Many plants we consider a nuisance, like the common dandelion, are actually great sources of pollen and nectar.
The final touches are all about design, and that’s completely up to you! When you make your garden as beautiful as it is sustainable, both you and the bees will have a place to enjoy for years to come.
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