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Our environment is made of countless, delicate systems that work together to create the world we know and love. Like a domino effect, if one part is knocked off balance, the entire ecosystem is disrupted. Pollination is a crucial process for plant production, one that sustains our entire way of life. Without it, we would lose 75% of the world's crops, including many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other plants.
With declining bee populations, pollination of our favorite plants is becoming increasingly threatened. With the hunger issues humanity faces today, we can't afford to produce any fewer crops than we have now. As gardeners, we can do our part by creating a pollinator-friendly garden. Plus, more pollinators in your own garden results in bountiful blooms and harvests at home!
The first step to pollinator gardening is knowing what pollinators you're trying to attract. There are plenty of small creatures that fly or flutter about, unknowingly spreading pollen and sustaining plant life for us. In the past, many pollinators were viewed as pests, and steps were actually taken to eliminate them. Now that we understand how incredibly important they are, it's time to switch up our focus and start encouraging these populations. Here are some common pollinators to watch for:
Bees are likely the first insect that comes to mind when you think of pollinators. With over 5,000 species of bees buzzing about North America alone, these insects are responsible for pollinating more plants than any other pollinator. When they collect nectar from a flower, pollen from the stamen sticks to their furry bodies, some of which rubs off when they visit the next plant.
Flies are also pollinators, transporting pollen with the hairs on their body just like bees. Although they might seem like a nuisance when they hang around your food and drink, their affinity for fruits and vegetables is a blessing when it comes to plant reproduction! Flies are important pollinators for edibles like berries, green peas, celery, and herbs.
Butterflies are pollinators that you might already be trying to entice to your garden, if not for their importance to the ecosystem, then for their gorgeous, fluttering wings! They're attracted to brightly colored flowers, especially warm shades like red, orange, pink, and yellow. Upon landing, pollen sticks to their long legs before these avid travelers spread it far and wide.
Moths and bats are mostly nocturnal, and so are some important flowers that need pollination! These creatures are drawn to white or pale, heavily-scented flowers that open later in the day and into the evening. Without them, we would have a lot less morning glory, gardenia, and even tobacco.
Beetles are also crucial pollination allies. With pollen sticking to the bodies of more than 30,000 beetle species, they take part in pollinating 88% of the world's flowering plants. As one of the earliest creatures to begin visiting flowers, beetles are actually some of the first pollinators, ever.
Birds, especially hummingbirds, also spread pollen as they flutter and glide between different flowering plants. There are more than 2,000 bird species that visit nectar-bearing flowers to feed on nectar and insects. Many of these plants have brightly-colored, tubular, odorless flowers and are strong enough for birds to perch on. Hummingbirds, in particular, are attracted to columbines, daylilies, and foxglove - especially the red ones!
Plants that Attract Pollinators
It's a common assumption that bright flowers alone will attract the wandering eyes of bees and butterflies. But pollinator gardening isn't that simple. Insects are much smarter than we give them credit for - they're attracted to certain plants for a variety of reasons, including color, scent and, of course, the presence of nectar. In our experience, flowering perennials are a great way to provide reliable plants for pollinators year after year. Plus, they look great both in your landscape and in containers!
Dandelions might seem like more of a nuisance to your garden than the bees and bugs! Although we understand the desire to cut them down, at least save it for late spring or early summer. As one of the first food sources for pollinators in the spring, dandelions are actually much more important than we give them credit.
Thyme may not provide the most flashy flower in your garden, but its simple beauty is enough to entice flies, bees, and butterflies. With early spring blooms and year-long foliage, thyme provides an edible function for both pollinators and people!
Milkweed is a well-known favorite of butterflies. These cheery, fluffy-looking blooms are great for attracting butterflies and encouraging them to stick around. Butterflies often lay their eggs in milkweed, since it's an important source of food for caterpillars when they finally emerge. With colorful blooms that last much of the summer, milkweed provides both aesthetic appeal and a reliable pollinator sanctuary.
Monarda is also called Bee Balm for a reason! Many bee species, even the rare black bee, flock to their tubular, nectar-filled flowers. The bright, showy reds, pinks and purples of this wildflower are also sure to catch the eye of passing butterflies and hummingbirds during their mid-summer bloom. Growing up to 3 feet tall, bee balm is a perfect backdrop for perennial beds and require very little care.
Coneflowers are long-blooming perennials that exhibit a wide range of gorgeous colors. Their downward facing petals and large centers are like living pedestals for butterflies to perch on. One of the best flowers for attracting butterflies, coneflowers are also favorites of long-tongued bees.
Goldenrod is a great choice for hitting that late summer and fall pollinator attraction. These brilliant, yellow blooms provide gorgeous fall color and entice bees, butterflies, and beetles to your garden. Once established, these golden beauties survive on rainwater alone and will return each year.
Other Tips for a Pollinator Garden
The first step to creating a pollinator garden is by planting flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Although this plant selection is crucial, there are other factors that can help you create a pollinator haven.
Include native species in your garden. Native pollinators are more attracted to the flowers that grow naturally in the region. While foreign species are exotic and alluring to us, pollinators will likely steer clear of them. In addition to the popular pollinator plants mentioned above, include other wildflowers native to North Dakota, like blanket flowers, columbine, coneflower, and prairie rose in your garden.
Plant a variety of attractive species. Though some plants might seem more popular amongst the bees and butterflies than others, it's important to have a diverse garden. Flowers only bloom for a short period of time, but these creatures are hungry from spring until fall! Plant flowers with staggered blooming times so there's always something attractive in your garden - and it's not bad for your curb appeal either!
Avoid using chemicals. While chemical pesticides and fertilizers might seem like an easy fix, they're incredibly harmful to our beloved pollinators. Use mulch, compost, and other organic solutions to encourage a healthy pollinator population.
Leave one area of your garden un-groomed. Pollinators are more likely to nest in your garden if it's similar to their native environment. Letting an area of your yard grow wild or planting some tall grass will provide a safe home for pollinators to rest and reproduce.
Provide a fresh water supply. Complete your pollinator garden by meeting another necessity to sustain life - clean, fresh water.
For all that pollinators provide us with, it's about time we start appreciating how beneficial they are to our ecosystem. With bright, nectar-filled flowers, wild plants, and fresh herbs, your yard is sure to be buzzing this year! Visit our store today to get started on your pollinator garden!