The decline of the honeybee and monarch butterfly population has our attention. As gardeners, our goal is to plant something that helps to attract and nurture the beneficial insects in our neighbourhood, provides natural beauty and colour AND is low maintenance.
Our solution: planting native plants in our outdoor space. This will provide a source of nourishment for pollinators while enhancing the local environment in measurable ways and creating a beautiful, low maintenance garden.
Inspired? There are some ‘tricks’ that you need to keep in mind: so called ‘little things’ that will help you to maximize the positive impact of your efforts. Here are our top tips:
1- Explore your options. And keep in mind that a succession of blooming times will maximize the population of pollinators. If you just plant Purple Cone Flower you will have masses of colour from mid July through late August but little else to show for your efforts over the balance of the season. We choreograph our pollinator gardens with crocus, daffodils and narcissus (late April through early May), Lungwort (pulmonaria), Foamflower, cilantro, oregano, Columbine and sweet woodruff takes over mid May through early June. Come early summer, we feature cardinal flower (a hummingbird magnet!), catmint, coral bells and many hosta varieties in our gardens.
As the season progresses, there are many plants that provide opportunities for foraging butterflies and feeding hummingbirds including Echinacea, rudbeckia, late flowering hostas and one of our favourites is borage. Come September and October, butterflies and bees love sedum spectabile, asters and monarda (bee balm) in our gardens.
Annual flowers that are pollinator magnets right into the fall months include sunflowers, zinnias, sweet alyssum and cosmos.
This is not an exhaustive list, but a starter to help get you thinking in the right direction.
Note that not all of our suggestions are native plants. In our opinion, if a plant is rich in nectar and/or pollen and therefore attracts pollinators it should be considered.
2 – Plant host plants. Monarch butterflies lay eggs exclusively on native milkweed. While it is late to start them from seed, it can certainly be done, and you will succeed in producing a healthy crop for next year if you get started now as milkweed is perennial. Once monarch larvae have hatched and fed on the milkweed, they move on to other food sources in your garden. Milkweed seeds are available on many seed racks at your favourite garden retailer including Home Hardware.
3- Place habitat. Garden retailers now offer a wide selection of habitat for many beneficial insects. Mason bee houses are available in a variety of models including a British import that features paper straws in a 10 cm round nesting ‘box’ that you hang on an east or south facing wall. Mason bees lay their eggs in the straws and you encourage an increase in effective pollinators to your neighbourhood. Look for ‘insect hotels’ and of course nesting boxes for birds, like the tree swallow.
4- Water. This is the single most impactful feature that you can add to your garden if you are interested in attracting pollinators and beneficial wildlife. Your yard can become the watering hole for a host of butterflies, native bees, dragon flies (yes, they are beneficial and they eat a lot of mosquitoes), frogs, toads and you name it. All you must do is make sure that the water is fresh and available to all who pass by. And when they do, watch out because babies will result and that means more ‘beneficials’! Many insects will bathe and drink where shallow water occurs. For butterflies, fill a container with water and line it with marbles, with water just below the top of the marbles, will help provide access to the water, without the risk of drowning.
Attracting pollinators to your yard or balcony provides benefits to your entire community: 30% of the food that we eat is pollinated by insects and hummingbirds.
Keep in mind that bees are attracted to white, yellow, blue and purple flowers more so than other colours.
For more information go to http://landscapeontario.com/pollinator-friendly-garden.
For more advice and answers to over 10,000 gardening questions, visit www.markcullen.com and sign up for Mark and Ben’s free monthly newsletter.