Attracting pollinators

October 21, 2009 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      One out of every three bites of food we eat is provided through the work of animal and insect pollinators.  The mysterious colony collapse disorder among commercial honeybees, disease and loss of habitat have severely affected pollinators that sustain our food crops and quality of life.

      Other insects besides bees act as important pollinators.  These include butterflies, beetles, moths, wasps, flies and even mosquitoes.  Hummingbirds are also significant pollinators.

      It is important to encourage pollinators in our yards and ensure their health so they are able to continue their important work.  To do this, we need to make our yards and gardens hospitable to pollinators and their larvae.  They need food, shelter and water, just as we do.

      Butterflies generally are attracted to bright flowering plants in full sun, protected from the wind.  Some good shrubs for butterflies are spicebush, eastern ninebark and aromatic sumac.  Perennial flowers include milkweed, daisy fleabane, tickseed, joe-pye-weed, sunflowers, sneezeweed, blazing star, beebalm, phlox, coneflower, heath aster and wake robin.  Wet muddy areas provide butterflies with moisture and minerals they need to stay healthy. 

      Bees, wasps, beetles and flies are not as exciting or as pretty as butterflies.  Nevertheless, it is increasingly important to make them welcome in our yards as the commercial bee population continues its decline.

      Good trees and shrubs to invite these pollinators are maple, service berry, pin cherry, black willow and linden.  Helpful flowers are black cohosh, red columbine, yellow trout lily, gentian, alum root, cardinal flower, Virginia bluebells, foamflower and spiderwort.  Herbs like mint, garlic, chives, oregano, parsley and lavender and annual flowers including zinnias, cosmos and single sunflowers also provide food for pollinators.

      Plant flowers in groups for more efficient pollination.  The pollinators learn where to find pollen in each type of flower and with several of the same species nearby they won’t have to explore each new flower to try to locate it, in the process wasting valuable pollen as it falls off their bodies.

      A little planning and attention to bloom season will provide your yard with beauty and food for insects from early spring to late fall.  Plant a diversity of plants to provide food for different pollinators.  Vary colors, fragrances and heights to attract different pollinator species.

      To further encourage these insects, allow things to become a little messy – leaf litter, weeds and dead branches all provide shelter.  Provide a pool, pond or even small containers of water for drinking.  Sloping sides or stones for them to stand on will prevent them from drowning.

      If you must use pesticides – which are extremely toxic to pollinators – use great caution, use as little as possible, and make sure you are using the proper pesticide for the problem you have.

      There is a website you can visit to find more information on making your yard a haven for pollinators.  Visit www.pollinators.org and enter your ZIP code for specific plant recommendations.

AnnualsFlowersPerennialsTrees and Shrubs


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