Master Gardener: How to create pollinator habitat
Pollinators are more than honey bees
As fall approaches, it is time to take stock of our gardens and begin strategizing about what to plant next year. It is also the time of year to plan and plant perennials.
Selecting plants that support pollination would play a role in your gardens. Pollination is one of nature’s most important functions; it is the way many plants reproduce. Pollinators assist plants with reproduction; they take pollen from one plant to another. If plants aren’t properly pollinated, they can’t bear fruit or produce seeds to grow new plants.
Pollinators are not just bees (and by the way, there are more than 900 species of bees in Colorado). Pollinators include wasps, beetles, flies, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats.
More than 70% of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators for fruit and seed production.
To create a great pollinator habitat, three things are important; food, water and shelter.
• Ideally your landscape should contain diverse plants that bloom throughout the entire summer, not just a month or two.
• Native flowers are excellent choices as they do well in our area and pollinators are attracted to them.
• Best choice of flowers will also be “single” versus “double” flowers. This doesn’t mean how many flowers on the stem, but rather, if there are multiple layers of petals (think fluffy dahlias or roses). Virtually all double flowers are sterile and don’t produce pollen or nectar.
• If you are particularly interested in attracting a specific type of pollinator, (i.e. hummingbirds, bees or butterflies), take a minute to find out what types of flowers these pollinators are particularly drawn to.
• Finally, some pollinators — like butterflies — will need different plants to feed on in their early developmental stage as caterpillars, so make sure your landscape has those plants as well.
Having any source of water nearby, even a bird bath, is appreciated by pollinators. If it is a standing pool of water, make sure the water is replaced every couple days so it doesn’t become stagnant.
Many pollinators nest and shelter in soil, old logs, in drying dead plant stalks and leaf piles. If there is any space in your landscape where you can accommodate this, it will probably help pollinators. And when someone asks why you don’t move that little pile of dead wood, you can tell them you are helping save our planet.
Most pollinators prefer sunny areas and large connected habitats rather than small, patchy ones. It’s also preferable to have a group of similar plants together rather than individual plants spread farther apart (and this is an excellent landscape design approach as well).
Finally, any time pesticides are used, check the labels to see how they might harm pollinators. There are usually several options, so it’s worth the time to check the label.
While many of us would love to have more hummingbirds and butterflies in our gardens, the threat of encouraging stinging insects is a deterrent. Great news: 90% of all stings are from yellow jackets, not bees or wasps. Yellow jackets are not pollinators, but feed off carrion (that’s why you frequently see them hovering around trash cans or food).
They can also be aggressive, but they will not be attracted to your garden. In contrast, native and solitary wasps can’t or very rarely sting, and if a honeybee stings, they die, so they only sting as a last resort, typically if stepped on or they think you are threatening the hive.
The most important takeaway is that any pollinator habitat is better than no habitat. With a little planning, you can have a gorgeous thriving garden for humans, as well as a life-saving landscape for pollinators.
The CSU Extension office is available to help. Stop by or call us at 970-879-0825 during our office hours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays for a free consultation or email email@example.com with your questions.
Find out what grows well in our community, how to deter pests that threaten your tomatoes, or when to plant a winter cover crop.
Gwen Swenson-Hale has been a master gardener since 2021. She grew up being terrified of bees, but after gardening with them for decades, loves helping them thrive. She also plants bee balm, cleome and calibrachoa to entice the hummingbirds.
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