What to Know About Pollinator Gardens

Beautiful cottage with a pollinator garden in the front yard.

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You've heard the term pollinator garden; it's a buzzword in gardening (pun intended!). It is a relatively recent term, but it's an important one for gardeners and anyone interested in environmentalism to know.

What is a Pollinator Garden?

A pollinator garden is designed to contain plants to provide food and shelter to animals that pollinate plants that support the local ecosystem and food web. Pollinator gardens are often made up of native plants, but pollinator gardens can still support local wildlife even without native plants.

Why Pollinator Gardens Matter

Pollinators—i.e., animals that move pollen from one flower to another—are in decline. Pollinator decline is attributed primarily to the loss of habitat and to the use of pesticides. Urbanization is occurring at an alarming rate; our green space is disappearing. Green space is often converted to land for crops, monoculture lawns, or planted with non-native plants that do not support or host local insects that carry out pollination.

With the rapid decline of bees, the widespread availability and use of pesticides, and the economics of horticulture in the past that prioritized a plant's desirability over its function, we are in a pollinator crisis. This is where pollinator gardens, and you, can help by planting a pollinator garden of your own.

Do Pollinator Gardens Take a Lot of Work to Start?

A beautiful thing about pollinator gardens is that you can do as much or as little work on it as you want after doing a little prep work. The garden can be as small as a window box or as large as a meadow that takes up your entire yard. Just place it in a nice sunny spot and provide the right conditions, and you will make our pollinator friends happy.

Cost

Pollinator gardening is some of the most economical gardening you can do. You can start your garden with seed, which takes a bit more prep work as you have to remove the plants and vegetation presently in the area, use transplants directly. When using transplants, there are two types of plants to use. Full plants that have some size to them or plugs, which are smaller plants that are much cheaper, younger plants that come in smaller 2-inch tubes that you can buy in large quantities. If you are planting a larger area, using plugs or seeds is the way to go.

It would help if you also looked around online for offers from organizations that support pollinator gardens. Many offer resources in the way of discounts or free seeds or plants to support the creation of pollinator gardens.

What Plants to Include in a Pollinator Garden

You will want to look at native wildflowers that support local pollinators. Milk weeds, coneflowers, Monarda, solidago, beardtongue, yarrow, coreopsis, and witch hazel for the winter months are all great plants to start with. Adding some native grasses and a good idea as well to give support and structure to your flowers. Do some research, and you will find the choices are extremely varied, depending on your USDA hardiness zone. The main goal is to have blooms that provide a food source for as long as possible to the maximum number of pollinators. Try to get plants that bloom all year round, and it will keep your pollinator visitors happy and your garden looking beautiful.

Sustaining a Pollinator Garden

Pollinator gardens consist mostly of native wildflowers that grow in a variety of conditions that are usually inhospitable. Trees and shrubs are often included as well. Most of the plants you will be using are very adaptable when it comes to soil and drought. Once you plant your garden and it is established, besides occasional weeding, it requires almost no supplemental care and very little extra work. Think what flowers and vegetation you would see in a meadow in a field and consider—who fertilizes, weeds, and waters the milkweed, coneflowers, and bee balm there?

Does One Pollinator Garden Matter?

Yes! Creating an interconnected web of pollinator gardens is a goal vital to restoring a balance to our ecosystem that will allow local growers to produce food and commercial growers continue to produce billions of dollars worth of crops for international consumption. A strong ecosystem allows for plants and trees to increase air quality, and helps stem off the effects of climate change.

Keys to a Good Pollinator Garden

There are a few elements that you need to include to make your garden a success. They are simple, easily done, and affordable but will make your garden into a elite Pollinator Bed and Breakfast:

  1. Use plants that give a source of food, shelter, and a place to raise young pollinators throughout the year.
  2. Provide a water source.
  3. Create large "drifts" of various native plants.
  4. Be placed in a sunny location, preferably with some area sheltered from the wind.
  5. Never use pesticides. You cannot use pesticides in a pollinator garden and still classify it as a pollinator garden.