- Sara Mastbaum Thomas Contributing Writer
Pollinator gardens have been rising in popularity, and well they should. Pollination is essential to a robust, healthy garden. Want to attract helpful bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your own landscape? We asked local experts for tips on what to do.
You might be thinking that all flowers attract bees, and to some extent, that can be true. However, if you want the bees to show some serious love to your outdoor space, it’s important to think strategically.
“Pollinator gardens shouldn’t be limited to one garden. It should be your whole landscape,” said Betty Hoevel of Five Rivers Metroparks. Consider the amount of sunlight the various areas of your yard receive. “Each place will get a different amount of sunlight. Bees don’t do anything if they’re cold.”
As for plants and flowers to attract those bees, Hoevel said, “The main thing you want is color in flowers, all the way from early spring to fall. You need to have a range of things — there are certain pollinators that are active at certain times. By bringing in lots of shapes and different colors, you attract not only bees, but other pollinators as well.”
It’s essential to keep in mind the physical qualities of bees, not just honeybees, but all types. This is where having a variety of flower shapes comes in handy because they’ll be able to support a variety of bees. Hoevel also noted that you’ll need a water source and a shelter, which can be as simple as a clump of tall grass.
Butterflies are attracted to your flowers for two reasons: to seek out nectar and to lay their eggs. Specific types of butterflies prefer particular plants for egg laying, according to Kelley Hale with Berns Garden Center in Middletown, whereas nectar is less specific.
“Some nectar plants (that butterflies) like are most things in the aster family, such as zinnias; lantanas; a lot of the herb plants, when they bloom — dill, fennel, lavender,” Hale said. “The best pollinator plants are usually sun plants.”
As with bees, your butterfly garden will likely attract other pollinators, but if you want to focus more on butterflies, consider these differences to bee gardens. “Color doesn’t seem to matter as much to butterflies,” as it does to bees and hummingbirds, Hale noted.
A water source also isn’t essential. “Butterflies do this thing called puddling, where they find a muddy puddle and sip from the minerals dissolved in there,” Hale said.
Butterflies have a shorter peak time than bees and hummingbirds, and it should be starting soon. “June, July and August are their peak months,” Hale said.
Small yet mighty, the hummingbird is frequently lumped in when talk turns to pollinator gardening. While they will pollinate, said Kimberley Stahl of Grandma’s Gardens in Waynesville, “hummingbirds don’t necessarily go after pollen, but have accidental pollination. The aren’t huge, major pollinators — they are more after nectar.”
Still, hummingbirds are well worth discussing and attracting. The first thing you’ll need to draw them in is a feeder, which can be found in most garden centers and gardening departments. “When the feeder is up, hummingbirds start noticing the flowers in people’s yards,” Stahl said.
So what flowers are best for them to notice? “Flowers that have a lot of nectar in them. Their favorite color would be red flowers, but they don’t just feed on red flowers, they’re just initially attracted to red color,” said Stahl.
Plant a mix of annuals and perennials, flowers, vines and shrubs, Stahl advised. Some hummingbird friendly plants include the annuals begonias, black and blue salvias and Wendy’s Wish salvias; the perennials cardinal flowers, bee balm and garden phlox; hybrid honeysuckle vines (not wild honeysuckle); and the weigelia shrub.
The time to start wooing hummingbirds is now, as they are back for the season.