By Ambrose P. Hill
As you’re planning and planting your garden this summer, it’s important to keep in mind the need to attract and feed the pollinators we rely on for our food sources. What are pollinators, what does it take to attract them and what benefits do they offer?
Who are the pollinators?
Butterflies, honeybees, bumblebees, hummingbirds and assorted moths are pollinators looking for gardens to feed in. All of these pollinators have one thing in common: they get their energy from nectar and pollen they extract from flowers. This is why it is important to plant shrubs, perennials and trees to provide a bountiful harvest of nectar and pollen.
In turn, these insects move pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another part. This pollen then fertilizes the plant. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and/or seeds, and without them, the plants cannot reproduce. Our food supply is dependent on pollinators!
Not only should we, as responsible gardeners, provide these pollinators with a food source, but we also must be wary about what caterpillars and insects we kill.
How do we attract pollinators?
If you notice, for example, holes in the leaves of plants in your garden, keep in mind that if you spray the plant, you might inadvertently kill a vital insect. Butterflies and moths spend most of their lives as caterpillars, and usually cause minimal damage to garden plants.
When shopping for plants, keep in mind that pollinators tend to prefer the colors pink, purple, white and yellow. These colors, along with the size of the flower, can go a long way to attract pollinators to your garden.
Another important consideration: not all plants are created equal, in terms of the amount of nectar and pollen they supply. Insects are attracted by the color and the size of a flower. The issue with this? Some plants, today, are bred to be sterile and don’t reproduce. Thus, these plants don’t supply nectar or pollen. As a result, pollinators will fly from plant to plant in search of nectar. In the process, they sap their energy, and don’t find any pollen or nectar—their food source.
It’s important, therefore, to plant specific plants that will bloom throughout the summer, giving a reliable nectar and pollen crop. Unfortunately, as time goes on, there are becoming fewer and fewer plant choices that are providing a substantial food crop for the pollinators.
All is not lost. Some plants provide that nectar and pollen “bank” that pollinators require to survive. One of my favorite is the coneflower. This plant will bloom between the months of June and September and will grow from 8- to 36-inches. In addition, this plant produces pink, purple, white, orange, yellow and red flower that will encourage pollinators to land in your garden.
Another prolific pollinator is the yarrow. This perennial grows from 12- to 24-inches tall and will bloom from July through August. Its blooms are purple, pink, white, red, orange and yellow. Its deep nectar reserves, and the ability to clip this plant and dry it to use for winter color in your house, should serve as an encouragement to add this gorgeous plant to your landscape.
Beebalm, as its name indicates, also attracts and feeds pollinators. This perennial sends forth purple, white and pink blooms that will sustain from June through August. In the right conditions, this plant will grow to a height of between 15- to 36 inches. It will easily attract pollinators to feed within your garden.
The aster is another plant that attracts pollinators. The aster varies in size from 1 to 8 feet and whose blossoms vary from pink to purple to white to red. This flower is packed full of the nectar and pollen and, depending upon the variety, can bloom from July to September, providing pollinators with the food source they so desperately need.
Bleeding heart is a shrub that grows from 24 to 36 inches in height and produces profuse clusters of pink, white and red flowers. This amazing plant’s bloom time is from April through May and will provide the pollen and nectar that pollinators so desperately need after the long winter.
Finally, one of the best pollinator plants is the butterfly ironweed. In the right conditions, this plant will grow to a height of between 30 and 36 inches and flower from June through July. This perennial produces long purple blossoms that will attract various pollinators and provide them with a large supply of nectar and pollen.
Remember: pollinators are one of the most important resources on this planet, for without them our food crops, including wheat, corn, oats and much of the produce we eat, would be severely affected by their absence. So, let’s do our part to steward these magnificent resources. By feeding them and providing for them, we really are feeding ourselves.
Ambrose Hill, owner of Country Garden Landscaping LLC, is a graduate of Pennsylvania College of Technology with an associate’s degree in horticulture. Country Garden Landscaping serves the Susquehanna Valley with landscape maintenance (mulching, edging, weeding, spring and fall cleanup); landscape design; landscape installation; lawncare; and plant healthcare (diagnosing and treating trees and shrubs that are being attacking by insects and diseases). Call Country Garden Landscaping LLC at (570) 648-4057 for a free estimate. Follow us on facebook at countrygardenlandscapingllc. Find us on the web at www.countrygardenlandscapingpa.com.