Creating a Pollinator Paradise

Colorful flower garden

by Pia Yarnell

If you’re just starting out in your pollinator garden journey, check out some of our resources on pollinator habitats and growing wildflowers. If you already have an efficacious garden full of native flowering plants, what’s next? Here are a few steps you can take to turn your favorite outdoor space into a true pollinator paradise.  

Provide Shelter:

Dead tree left upright

Dead trees left upright to decompose naturally, also called snags, provide many insects and animals a place to live and shelter from high winds and bad weather. As long as they don’t pose a safety concern, leaving portions of dying trees or dead limbs can provide essential nesting sites for pollinators. Even simply leaving perennials and grasses until late spring instead of removing them in the fall can provide overwintering shelter for pollinators. Here are a couple fun and interesting DIY alternatives:

Provide a Source of Water: 

Bird bath used as water a source

Butterflies and some moths use wet sand and mud puddles to drink water and extract salts and minerals. Fun fact: this is called puddling. To install a puddling spot in your garden, fill a shallow container with sand or dirt and keep it moist. 

Bees use water for many purposes including hydration, honey dilution, and (believe it or not) even hive cooling and humidity control. A water source such as a shallow bird bath or pebble-filled bowl of fresh, clean water is a great addition to a pollinator garden.

Hang a Hummingbird Feeder:
 

In North America, hummingbirds are by far the most common bird pollinators. To support their extremely high metabolisms, hummingbirds eat several times their weight in nectar every day. To attract these beautiful and entertaining birds to your garden, consider plants with brightly colored tube-shaped flowers.
 
Hummingbird visiting feeder

Photo courtesy of Robert Kester
 
Hanging a hummingbird specific feeder is also an option, however it may be more of an undertaking than you would expect. If you choose to feed hummingbirds, here are some guidelines to providing a safe food source:
  1. Use a 1:4 solution of refined white cane sugar and spring or tap water. 
  2. Never feed hummingbirds honey, artificial sweeteners, unrefined sugars, or red dyes. 
  3. When the weather is hot, empty and clean your feeder at least twice a week. Sugar water grows pathogens. If you see mold or the mixture becomes cloudy, you need to clean more often.
  4. Select a feeder with no hidden areas. All internal surfaces must be able to be reached and cleaned with a bottle brush. Clean thoroughly with a white vinegar solution and rinse well with hot water.

Wilted flowers

Limit the Use of Pesticides: 
 

It’s no secret that pesticide use is harmful to pollinators. Some of the most toxic pesticides take a long time to break down, and as a result, concentrations can accumulate in the environment and impact insects, birds, invertebrates, and other beneficial organisms. Even some pesticides that are not toxic have been found to impact learning, foraging, and immune responses in bees.
 
Here are some pollinator friendly pest control strategies for your home lawn and garden. 
  1. Consider alternate pest control options, such as manual removal. 
  2. Select plant species that naturally repel pests, or those that may attract the pest’s predators. This is one aspect of a common practice called companion planting. 
  3. Do your research on pesticide selection and application strategies prior to use.

Resources: 

 
About the Author
 
Pia Yarnell first got involved with the SCA in 2006 when she joined a high school crew on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Then in 2010 she participated as an Invasive Plant Control Intern in the Washington DC area. Pia developed her love for the environment and conservation into a career as an engineer with a focus on alternative energy and building efficiency. She now lives in Vermont and continues to support the SCA as an alumni ambassador.