Ten Tips for a Thriving Pollinator Victory Garden
1) Plant for a succession of bloom throughout the growing season.
Different pollinator species emerge at various times of year, and have differing lifespans and periods of activity. Create an ongoing "pollinator buffet" throughout the growing season by planting a succession of overlapping bloom through the growing season. In most parts of North America, the growing season will be early spring through late fall.
2) Skip double-flowered plants - they have little, and sometimes no, nectar or pollen.
What is beautiful to the human eye may be a source of starvation for a bee or other pollinator. Find the beauty in what a plant does, not just how it looks. Emphasize plants that have naturally-occurring forms that pollinators can recognize and utilize.
3) Emphasize native plants to support native pollinators and your ecosystem.
Evolution matters! Native pollinators have evolved with native plants and may excel at pollinating those species. Some research shows that local native pollinators have a strong preference for local native plants. In some cases, pollinators and plants are co-dependent. Specialist pollinators may depend upon a small group of plants or a single native plant species.
Native plants perform more ecological functions in your garden than you might realize. Let Mother Nature be your guide in plant selection.
4) Don't forget to include flowering trees, shrubs and vines in your landscape – pollinators need them.
Many "woody" plants (trees, shrubs and vines) offer a volume of flowers that can feed a large number of pollinators. Some early blooming trees and shrubs can be the only source of nectar or pollen to early emerging bees, before flowering perennials emerge. Many flowering trees, shrubs and vines are also larval host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars, and provide habitat to birds and other creatures.
5) Plant a diverse array of plants with different flower shapes, sizes and colors.
Each pollinator type is attracted to different plant characteristics. While a hummingbird is attracted by red flowers, a bee will be enticed by other colors, including purple, violet, blue, white and yellow. Not every pollinator can access the same kind of flower either – some need very open flowers while others can use more closed flowers or long, tubular flowers. A pollinator’s tongue length, body size, shape and strength determine what flowers it can use. Plant diversely to accommodate a diverse array of pollinators.
6) Create floral targets for pollinators.
Make it easier for pollinators to find flowers by planting enough of each plant species to feed them. Sizeable patches of the same plant are the easiest for pollinators to find. A 3ft x 3ft patch of a single species is a good place to start and can be repeated if the landscape is large enough. In naturalistic gardens or meadowscapes where there are no true groupings, repeat the plant species throughout the area. Some pollinators only forage on a single plant species during a foraging trip and they need enough to eat. Achieve floral balance in your landscape for pollinators by plant diversely, but planting sufficiently.
7) Provide nesting sites for pollinators in your landscape.
70% of native bee species nest in the ground and need bare soil in a sunny spot. Dedicate small areas for these ground-nesting bees and keep those zones free of foot traffic. Accommodate the other 30% of bees that nest in old mouse holes, tree cavities, pithy plant stems, dead trees, crevices in stone walls, etc. Other types of pollinators have different habitat needs – a well-layered landscape (trees, shrubs, vines and perennials) will accommodate most of them.
8) Eliminate pesticides from your garden.
Synthetic, man-made pesticides can be deadly to pollinators. Even some organic products can be lethal to sensitive creatures like bees. A thriving Pollinator Victory Garden is pesticide-free. Skip the "secret sauce" (pesticides) and attract nature's pest control (beneficial insects) to your garden with native plants that support them.
9) Reduce or eliminate your lawn.
Turfgrass lawns, or “green deserts” are ecological wastelands for pollinators. Determine how much lawn you really need and replace the rest with flowering native plants. For any lawn you keep, manage it organically. Pesticide drift has killed many a pollinator. Your family and your pets will benefit too, not only pollinators.
10) Add a pollinator habitat sign to your landscape.
Help raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and make a point of showing off your Pollinator Victory Garden to family, friends and neighbors with a pollinator habitat sign. This visual clue explains that you are gardening with purpose and improving the environment around you. It can also inspire others to create a Pollinator Victory Garden of their own.