A pollinator garden has a variety of plants and other habitat properties designed to attract those species which pollinate our plants. Minnesota is home to more than 400 species of native bees, and 146 species of butterflies. There are numerous other insects that are included in the pollinator group, and even hummingbirds and bats are important in pollination. There are a lot of efforts working to help pollinators, and if you have a smart phone you can help! Check out bumblebeewatch.org for a fun citizen science opportunity. Snap pictures of the bees you see in your garden, guess what species they are, and once you submit your guess, an expert will reply with your answer. In January 2017, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was the first bee introduced to the Endangered Species List, and it lives right in our own back yards. Bumble Bee Watch is a great way to help scientists know where and how many bees are still out there.
If you are familiar with Monarch butterflies and would like to see more of them in your landscape, plant milkweed plants. The saying goes, if you plant them, they will come, and it is true. Each year we add more patches of three different varieties of milkweed we are able to grow here, and each year we see more and more caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies. Milkweeds are also great nectar plants for other pollinators besides monarchs. Milkweeds are typically known for being the host plant for the monarch caterpillars which need the milkweed to feed on in order to morph into butterflies. Milkweeds are also host plants for several other types of butterflies, and despite the unforgiving classification as a weed, without it, Monarchs and other butterflies wouldn’t exist. As herbicides began to be used in mass quantities, the milkweeds habitat decreased to the point of endangering the Monarchs. Today it is popping up in many home gardens and being established in Monarch Way Stations across the U.S. For more information on Monarch Way Stations and other great pollinator resources, check out the links listed below.
Great Pollinator and Native Plant resources:
Monarch Watch; http://www.monarchwatch.com
Xerces society; http://www.xerces.org
University of Minnesota Bee Lab;http://beelab.umn.edu
Native plants, or those plants that were not put here through human occurrence, are some of the most important plants to include when looking to create a pollinator garden. Many plants are dependent on certain insect pollination, and there are many species of bees and butterflies which require the food provided by a specific native plant. I continue to add native plants to our landscape, and strive for a pesticide free environment. We also do our best to not disturb those wild, native areas on our property. I have been fortunate to find many native wild flowers thriving all around us. When I find them, they are left to exist and provide. A couple of years ago, we designated a section of our lawn as a “no mow” zone. It has been awesome to see all the wildflowers that have begun to make this space their home again. One of my favorite pollinator and native plant resources is by author and researcher Heather Holm, Pollinators of Native Plants. When you purchase her books, a donation is made to our own University of Minnesota Bee Lab. Check out this link to purchase her books, as well as find a ton of great information on site planning for pollinator gardens. https://www.pollinatorsnativeplants.com/
Our current pollinator gardens feature both non-native and native perennials and annuals such as sunflowers, Jacob’s ladder, spiderwart, cup plant, swamp milkweed, and holly hocks. There are numerous lists to help you choose plants that will work in your landscape to help feed our pollinators. It’s important to remember to plant a few varieties that will be in bloom for each part of the growing season. Early spring blooming flowers followed by the numerous summer blooms, and then again followed by our favorite fall blooming staples will provide continuous forage for those pollinators you’re hoping to attract. Consider adding a supplemental water source if you don’t have a creek or pond near your property. Butterfly puddles, and bee waters are easy to construct yourself, and they help to ensure these tiny creatures can get a drink when there might be little water available.
Check out our other gardens