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Basic Guide to Starting a Pollinator Garden

Updated: May 25, 2023


What are Pollinators?

Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, birds, and bats are natural pollinators. Each creature plays its own important and unique part in the all-important process of pollination. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are in a global decline as humanity continues to disturb the natural environment.


Why is pollination so important?

Pollinators are responsible for the continued existence of over 79% percent of the world’s plants and crops. Many human-grown crops are reliant on pollinators. In particular, Alfalfa, flax, sunflower, and cotton are all major crops in our region that would fail without the help of pollinators.


How can we help pollinators?

Pollinator gardens, whether rural or urban, have been proven as an effective method to nurture pollinator populations and mitigate the decline in pollinator populations.





What is a pollinator garden?

A pollinator garden in a “human-managed habitat aimed at increasing the number of nesting sites and floral resources available.” The goal of a pollinator garden is to attract and benefit as many different species of pollinators as possible.




Important aspects to consider when creating a pollinator garden.

Location – pollinator gardens perform best when located in full sun. Not only do the plants benefit from full sun locations by growing happily and producing more nectar, but pollinators themselves also prefer open, sunny areas. Butterflies in particular enjoy basking in the sun. The exception to this is flies, who typically visit small flowers that bloom in the shade.


Water – pollinators, like all creatures, depend on water for survival. A pollinator garden should provide a source of clean, fresh water for visiting pollinators.


Shelter – many pollinators overwinter in the ground or in dead branches or leaf litter. Leaving bare patches of ground or piles of dead twigs and leaves in the garden may sound messy and undesirable, but the pollinators will thrive when they are offered a safe winter home.


Plant Species Richness – pollinators enjoy a wide array of options and they sample from many different species of plants. Pollinators also gravitate towards gardens that provide their favorite “host” plants – plants on which they lay eggs. Many shrubs, trees, and grasses can also provide a place where pollinators choose to shelter. Provide a rich and diverse garden for pollinators with not only flowers but host plants and shelter plants as well.


Cultivars – the cultivars of plants chosen for a pollinator garden may determine whether your pollinator garden is a success or a failure. Some cultivars, such as those with double blooms, do not attract pollinators and therefore add little value to a pollinator garden. It is also important to choose native plants – but not exclusively. Native pollinators are typically drawn to native plants, but again, the richness of species is more important than creating a native-only garden. Experiment and observe your pollinator garden. Take note of which flowers are visited often and which flowers are ignored by pollinators.


Nearby Resources – think about what resources your neighbors provide for pollinators, such as a source of fresh water. You may be able to devote more space to habitat elements that are missing nearby.



Here are some great plant options for pollinator gardens.

Juniper

Barberry

Ninebark

Prunus virginiana (chokecherry)

Rose

Rubus idaeus (red raspberry)

Viburnum

Yucca

Agastache

Allium

Aquilegia (columbine)

Asclepias (milkweed)

Astragalus agrestis (purple milkvetch)

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow)

Campanula rotunifolia (bluebell bellflower)

Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover)

Delphinium bicolor (little larkspur)

Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower)

Gaillardia aristata (blanket flower)

Geum

Helenium autumnale (sneezeweed)

Helianthus maximiliani (maximillian sunflower)

Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower)

Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower)

Heuchera (coral bells)

Liatris (blazing star)

Lilium philadelphicum (wood lily)

Linum lewisii (priaire flax)

Lupinus argenteus (silvery lupine)

Monarda (beebalm)

Oenothera caespitosa (tufted evening primrose)

Penstemon (beardtongue)

Phlox

Ratibida columnifera (prairie coneflower)

Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan)

Ruta graveolens (Rue)

Salvia

Solidago (goldenrod)

Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow)

Verbena

Viola


Shelter Plants

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats gramma)

Bouteloua gracilis (blue gramma)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)


Bee-Pollinated Garden Flowers & Crops

Catalpa

Catnip

Clover

Columbine

Goldenrod

Impatiens

Irises

Lavender

Morning Glory

Penstemon

Potentilla

Rose

Salvia

Sorrel

Wild Mustard

Apple

Blueberry

Cherry

Eggplant

Gooseberry

Legumes

Watermelon

Squash/Pumpkins/Gourds

Tomatoes

Thyme


These are plants that we carry, have carried, or have observed growing naturally in the region. It is not a comprehensive list.


We hope this will function as a basic guideline on how to start a pollinator garden. Be on the lookout for more posts with more specific detail on pollinator gardens. In the meantime, here are some resources we thought you might enjoy if you would like more information on gardening for pollinators.





3002022284_Bee-Identification-Guide
.pdf
Download PDF • 7.62MB

pollinator-garden-cards-great-plains
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.32MB

Integrated Pest Management
.pdf
Download PDF • 301KB



Information for this post was gathered from the following resources.

Watson, Travis L., Martel, Carlos, and Arceo-Gomez, Gerardo. 2022. "Plant Species Richness and Sunlight Exposure Increase Pollinator Attraction to Pollinator Gardens." Ecosphere 13(12):e4317. htps://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.4317





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