Flowers for Bees: Growing Wildflowers to Attract Pollinators

How important are bees and other pollinators for our food supply? Let’s put it this way: one in every three bites of your food wouldn’t be there if weren’t for them. Pollinators are responsible for the survival of plants that bring us fruits, vegetables and nuts – including some 150 U.S. crops – and half of the world’s oils and fibers. The plants spread by pollinators also prevent soil erosion and keep carbon out of the atmosphere, combating climate change.

And although pollinators are under severe threat, there is something very concrete we can do to help save them: turn your backyard or space into a “nectar corridor” by planting wildflowers. In today’s post, we’ll discuss everything you need to get started.

From Tidy to Teeming

The first thing we need to do is to change how we envision our yards and open spaces. For years, we have been taught that yards need to be “tidy”: grass cut, weeds pulled, nothing out of place. In truth, however, what most attracts pollinators are the very plants and flowers that are often mistaken for weeds.

And while we are not saying you must allow your entire yard to grow wild (although it’s a great excuse not to mow!), just creating a small space for wild-flower growth – perhaps a border area or out-of-the-way patch – allows pollinators the areas they need to feed and proliferate.

Hand in hand with growing a “wild corner” is the need to avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Some pesticides kill bees outright, while others attack their brains, disorienting them and reducing their ability to pollinate. And this applies not only to agricultural chemicals, but also to standard lawn-care products; be sure to check ingredients carefully for the presence of harmful neonicotinoids.

Plants for All Seasons

When choosing flowers to plant, the best advice is to find flowers that are native to your area: a helpful guide, with downloadable PDFs per region, can be found here . It’s also a good idea to choose a variety of at least three types of flowers that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall.

Depending on where you live, this mix could include crocus, hyacinth, and lilac for spring blooms; the aptly-named bee balm, cosmos, and echinacea for the summer; and zinnias, aster, and goldenrod for the fall. Group same-species plants together so bees can easily spot them, and, if possible, provide a water source – bees, like all living beings, need to drink.

Your wild corner is not constrained to wildflowers, either: bees love anything that flowers. That includes certain fruits and vegetables, herbs and berries, along with common trees such as black locust, linden, maple, sumac, and willow. In the case of food plants and herbs, make sure you let the plant go to flower once harvesting is complete – an important end-of-season food source for bees.

Best of all, planting wildflowers and other flowering natives may be some of the most fun you and your family have ever had in the backyard. By making and throwing seed balls, you can get your wild corner thriving in no time – without the labor-intensive work entailed by traditional gardening. And those same seed balls are also perfect for use in abandoned lots, unclaimed land, and along streets and railways, so be sure to take some with you when you travel.

Spreading on the Winds

While we can’t get bees out of danger overnight, we can use the space we have available to us to recreate some of the habitat they’ve lost. In the process, we can rediscover the flowering plants and trees that Mother Nature, in her botanical wisdom, designed for our region. And as our local pollinators get to work, moving pollen from flower to flower, our efforts will literally spread on the winds.

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