Pollinator Gardens

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

As the weather warms up, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees are seen busily working in our gardens. These pollinators are extremely important for the future of many plants, as well as our own livelihood.

Pollination is when pollen is transferred to the female part of the flower. Sometimes pollen must be transferred to a different flower, sometimes pollen need only move slightly within the flower. Pollen from one species of plant usually only pollinates flowers of the same species; however, there are exceptions.

Pollination is important because it creates seed to ensure the future of the plant species. Many of the fruits and vegetables we eat are a result of pollination. Approximately one out of every three bites we take when eating, are the result of animal pollination.

About 90% of the flowering plants in the world need animals for pollination. The remaining 10% depend on the wind or rain for pollination. Wind-pollinated plants include corn, oak, pine, maple, birch, pecan, ragweed, and grass. Many people allergic to pollen are often allergic to plants that pollinate by the wind.

When a pollinator visits a flower, they are in search of nectar, a sugary liquid produced by flowers. Nectar provides much needed energy. In the process of collecting nectar, the animal is unknowingly dusted with pollen. Then, this pollen is transferred to the next flower visited. Some pollinators, like bees, collect pollen in specialized sacks on their legs to feed as a protein source to young.

There are many examples of pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, hummingbirds, and bats (bats only pollinate in the desert regions of the US).

Here are some important features when designing a garden that will attract pollinators:

Plant flowers attractive to the various different pollinators. Certain pollinators are attracted to different colors, smells, and flower forms. See http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/syndromes.shtml for helpful flower selection tips. Make sure to plant for a long bloom time – you want at least three different plants flowering during spring, summer, and fall.

Use pesticides minimally. Many pesticides are harmful to pollinators. In the case of insect-eating hummingbirds, declines in the insect population decreases their food source. Try to implement Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines cultural, biological and chemical controls. If you must use a chemical, use a liquid (avoid dusts) and spray at night when many pollinators are less active. Try to choose a pesticide that is less toxic to bees and other wildlife.

Provide host plants for caterpillars. A pollinator garden should provide a habitat for all life stages of the animal. Caterpillars will eat plants; place host plants in an inconspicuous place to hide the inevitable defoliation.

Provide nesting habitat. This includes nesting areas for the various solitary bees that are native to our area. You can easily make a nesting house for mason bees by drilling holes (1/4 – 3/8” diameter and 4 – 6” long) into untreated wood. Also plant evergreen shrubs for protection and potential nesting places for hummingbirds.

Provide extra nectar resources for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds can consume up to five times their weight in nectar per day. Supplement flower nectar supply by hanging a hummingbird feeder. Make sure the base is red, but do not use dyed sugar water as the dye can harm the birds.

Pollinators are extremely important workers in our garden. By taking some simple steps, you can have a garden that will attract these helpful animals. For more information about pollinators, contact our center at 775-5624.

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