One of the easiest and most beautiful ways to invite native wildlife to your property is to add a pollinator garden. Any part of your landscape that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight (more is better) is ideal for these flower-filled informal gardens. Get started by planning your pollinator garden with these tips in mind:
Ensure blooms for the entire growing season.
Because the goal of such gardens is to feed pollinators – both native bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies as well as non-native honeybees – at least one kind of plant should be blooming throughout the growing season. Pollinator gardens don’t need to be large. If you have a relatively small space, choose at least one kind of plant that blooms in early spring, one for mid-season blooms, and one for late-season flowers.
Plant groups of the same species of plant.
Because pollinators prefer to work a single species of flower at a time, successful pollinator gardens contain at least three specimens of each species planted. Visually, odd-numbered groups work best in such informal gardens, so think threes, fives, sevens, and so on, depending on the size of your garden.
Choose plants with differing flower shapes.
Pollinators range in size from very large carpenter bees to solitary bees so tiny they are hard to spot as they zip from flower to flower. Larger pollinators usually prefer flowers with larger “landing pads,” such as daisies and coneflowers. Hummingbirds and butterflies prefer to use their long tongues to drink nectar from tubular-shaped flowers, such as native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and Cardinal Flower. Tiny pollinators often prefer smaller flowers, such as those of Queen Anne’s Lace.
Choose plants with differing shapes.
As with flower shape, the overall form of a plant can affect which pollinators visit it. Low-growing sprawling forms will tend to attract smaller pollinators. Tall forms, such as those of Joe Pye Weed or Ironweed, tend to attract larger pollinators, including butterflies such as Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
When space allows, add some larval food plants.
Many people know that Monarch butterfly populations are diminishing across North America. One suggested explanation is that these beautiful pollinators are finding it increasingly difficult to find the species of plant their larval forms (caterpillars) require. Monarch caterpillars only eat species of milkweed. The adult butterflies will happily visit any flower for nectar, but they only lay eggs on milkweeds. Milkweed plants have beautiful flowers, so it is no hardship to add them to your pollinator garden, and if you are willing to allow the caterpillars to eat the plants, you will be helping to ensure the continued survival of that species.
Whenever possible, use plant species native to your area.
The native insects and birds of our area evolved to eat native species of plants. As with the Monarchs, many pollinators need specific species of native plants to feed their larvae. We are lucky here in central North Carolina, because it is home to many beautiful native species of wildflowers beloved by pollinators and birds. Whenever possible, choose plant varieties that closely resemble the species. Avoid varieties with fancy double flowers, because most of these no longer produce the pollen and/or nectar pollinators need.
By keeping in mind these few tips as you plan and plant your pollinator garden, you will be rewarded with visits from a diversity of native pollinators and honeybees. Beautiful butterflies will dance between blossoms. Hummingbirds will stop by to sip nectar and perhaps snag a small bug (yes, they eat insects!). As your pollinator garden matures, more species of native wildlife will be attracted to your habitat garden. Expect American Toads to move in, as well as native lizards, such as Five-lined Skinks. Goldfinches may stop by to dine on coneflower seeds, and beneficial predatory insects, such as Praying Mantises, may well visit. Pollinator gardens are win-win landscape additions. Every day in your pollinator garden will be beautiful and different as diverse native wildlife species use the garden you created for them to survive and thrive.