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Earth Notes
Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Pollinator Gardening

Michael Collier

For a beautiful, thriving garden, it’s all about the birds and the bees — and the bats and the butterflies too. Nearly all flowers and most crop plants need animals to carry their pollen from one plant to another for fertilization.

There are a few tips to insure these essential pollinators are invited to your garden. Patiently observe which insects and birds are already choosing certain plants. Native plants will invite even more because they’re best adapted to a given environment. A little water goes a long way, especially to lure butterflies and bees that “puddle” there for moisture and salts. Scattered limbs and twigs offer shelter and nest sites for bees. And avoiding use of chemicals and insecticides will help too.   

Beyond general suggestions, other steps can attract specific pollinators. Hummingbirds come to tubular or pendant-shaped flowers, especially red or yellow ones—columbines, cardinal flowers, and salvias. For butterflies you’ll need host plants for the caterpillars to lay their eggs—milkweed for monarchs for example. Adult butterflies will come to a variety of flowers in almost any color, especially if sweet-scented and nectar-rich.

Bees prefer flowers with concentrated nectar and rich pollen stores. Blue and yellow colors and a long- blooming season are a good bet to draw in bees. Installing a nesting box will bring in even more.

Nocturnal creatures like moths, beetles, and bats are also significant pollinators. Nectar-feeding bats will dip into agave flowers, while sphinx moths hover at Datura, four o’clocks, and evening primrose.

Setting the table for pollinators will assure a garden of earthly delights.