Pollinators Need a Variety

by Julie Barnes

We are all aware that our well-known European honey bee has been shrinking in numbers for the last two decades. But, there are still thousands of insects to pollinate vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants, including bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies or ants. Together with mammals, such as, hummingbirds or bats, their roles have become even more important. We gardeners can help by simply incorporating a variety of plants into our gardens, or in containers. No place is too small, whether, it is a deck, balcony, or townhouse front yard. A continuous supply of food is needed by pollinators throughout their life spans.

Assorted shapes, sizes, or colors make flowering plants attractive, guiding pollinators toward nectar, or pollen nutrients. Carbohydrate nectar satisfies the high metabolism of butterflies and hummingbirds, as they energetically burn calories. Protein pollen is collected by bees and other pollinators to feed their young. When pollen is gathered, it is inadvertently transported from one flower to another. Small tubular flowers attract moths, bees, and butterflies, while longer tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Since butterflies cannot hover over foliage, they prefer flowers that have flat landing platforms, like flat topped flower clusters, or wide open petals that they can easily walk on as they sip nectar. Where garden space is limited, plants from the daisy family offer tempting choices for a broad range of pollinators. Inside distinctive flower-heads, an encircling ray of petals surrounds the center disc and is absolutely filled with small pollen laden flowers.  Nature makes it easier, as well, for pollinators to locate their preferred flowers from afar through color or fragrance. For instance, red blooms attract butterflies or hummingbirds, while fragrant nighttime flowers attract moths. Using heirloom plants or native wildflowers should be considered, as well. Wildflowers not only provide butterflies with nectar, but they also serve as host plants to support their eggs and caterpillar larvae. Of course, there are many non-native plants that are appealing to a wide variety of pollinators too.  But, some of these newer cultivars have been bred for flower size, or showiness. Therefore, pollen or nectar can sometimes be eliminated or lost in this process. Whenever possible, avoid using pesticides, including systemic ones that are drawn up through the plant's roots and distributed throughout the plant.  Their impact upon pollinators is uncertain. Successful pollination relies on diversity. From early spring through late fall, a mixture of blooms from grasses and vines to shrubs or bulbs can provide pollinators sustenance. I offer you some plant suggestions.

Suggested Plants for Pollinators

  • Bumblebees- Lavender, Foxglove, Passionflowers, Catmints, Scarlet Runner Beans, Tomatoes, Zinnia
  • Butterflies- Coneflowers, Honeysuckles, Milkweeds, Penstemons, Yarrow, Black-eyed Susan, Goldenrod
  • Hummingbirds- Salvias, Bee-balms, Delphinium, Weigela, Baptisia, Cardinal flower
  • Moths- Moonflowers, Yuccas, Centranthus, Nicotianas, Lychnis, Evening Primrose
  • Flies- Cilantro, Fennel, Meadowsweet, Spurges, Apples& Crabapples, Primroses
  • Beetles - Magnolias, Calycanthus(Sweetshrub), Chiomanthus spp.(Wintersweet)
  • Solitary Bees- Joe-Pye- Weeds, Globe Thistles, Grape Holly,Sweet Alyssum, Dill, Coreopsis, Sunflower, Gallardia, Asters, Ninebark