For plants to reproduce, they need pollinators. These include insect species such as bees, butterflies, beetles, flies and thousands of other insects, as well as hummingbirds. Unwittingly, while searching for nectar, pollinators move pollen from the male anther of one flower to the female stigma of another.
Plant scientists in Ontario are concerned about a decline in pollinator populations, including the honeybee. No matter if you have a large country garden or a small urban garden, you can help Mother Nature by planting a pollinator garden. Even if your growing space is limited to a deck or balcony, containers can be used to grow pollinator plants.
Pollinators have the same basic needs essential to all life, namely: food, water and shelter. A pollinator garden strives to achieve all three elements to attract these welcome visitors. Flowers with bright colours, such as red, yellow, blue and violet, will attract them. Native and old-fashioned varieties are best. While newer-bred plants may be attractive to humans, they may lack easily accessible pollen and nectar for pollinators.
Pollinator-friendly flowers come in a range of shapes, sizes, colours and blooming periods and include bee balm, cardinal flower, phlox, sage, cosmos, English lavender, lupine, cone-flower, geranium, black-eyed Susan, sunflower, shasta daisy, verbena, zinnia, milkweed, aster, lupine, thistle, violets, butterfly weed, and marigolds.
Here are a few tips to create a pollinator-friendly garden:
Provide water. Shallow pools, rocks in a bird bath and mud puddles will help to provide water, home building material and important minerals for some pollinators.
Avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides that can be harmful to pollinators. (A pesticide ban is in effect in Ontario for home gardeners.) Pesticides are designed to kill insects. Herbicides can kill plants that support insect life.
Leave patches of undisturbed bare soil. By not applying mulch to parts of the garden, you will encourage many native bees that are ground nesting.
Encourage diversity of plant life by having different species of flowers blooming at once.
Consider nesting boxes for mason bees that nest in holes in wood or in hollow canes of plants. You can buy commercial nesting boxes, or make your own.
Grow native grasses to provide shelter and food for a variety of wildlife.
Provide overwintering places for eggs and larvae. Leave cut plant stems, twigs and brush in small piles for insects in the fall. Don’t rush to clean up your garden.
Did you know that one out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible by pollinators? Eighty percent of all flowering plants rely on pollinators for survival.
Enjoy The Edible Garden Newsletter published monthly by Lanark County Master Gardeners and available on our website www.lanarkmg.blogspot.com or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @lanarkmg.