The honeybee population has seen a major decline in the past few years, and that’s some seriously bad news. Many people have taken up beekeeping in an effort to help, but not everyone is able to tend their own aviary. If you’re looking for a way to aid our beleaguered friends, one of the easiest things we can do to help is to lighten their workload. By making a few simple modifications to your yard, you can attract a variety of pollinators to your garden — not to mention make a few sweet little friends.
Attracting hummingbirds starts with choosing plant species that have different blooming periods. A ready-to-bloom hanging basket of fuchsia will attract them in spring, followed by a fast-growing Salvia species in midsummer (Mountain Sage is my favorite), and finished with a late-blooming trumpet creeper in the late summer and fall. By ensuring continuous blooming, hummingbirds will always have a reason to be in your yard. You can also deadhead your flowers to keep your them blooming a bit longer.
Hang durable, heavy plastic nectar feeders five to ten days before the spring return of hummingbirds in your area. Make sure they are designed for easy filling, and that they come apart for easy cleaning. Place feeders high enough to deter predators, but in plain sight near flowers. When temperatures rise, keep feeders in the shade as the nectar can spoil in as little as two days, causing fermentation and mold growth. Wash the feeder with hot soapy water every time you take it down for a refill. Rinse thoroughly before refilling.
Hummingbirds, like all birds, love to bathe. By placing a mister into your birdbath, you’ll attract a host of hummingbird friends, just dying to fly through the water. Misters require no electricity and use very little water, making them conservation friendly.
To attract butterflies you need to incorporate plants that serve all of a butterfly’s life stages. Since many butterflies and native flowering plants co-evolved over time, they depend on each other for survival and reproduction. Include as many native flowering plants in your garden as possible to provide butterflies with the nectar and foliage they need as both adults and caterpillars. Check Gardens With Wings for a list of butterfly species and host plants native to your area.
Adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple blossoms. Look for flowers that are flat-topped or clustered, and have short flower tubes. Since butterflies generally only feed in the sun, these plants should be planted in the section of your garden that receives full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
There are around 4,000 species of native bees in the United States, including the orchard mason bee. Orchard mason bees are extraordinary pollinators; just 250 to 300 females can pollinate an entire acre of fruit trees. Mason bees are solitary bees — meaning females lay eggs and raise offspring without the assistance of a colony — and as such, they are incredibly gentle. A mason bee will only sting if she perceives a serious threat, such as being stepped on or squeezed.
Since orchard mason bees only pollinate during the spring months, you’ll need to plant an assortment of flowers that bloom from early spring through early summer. Like butterflies, wildflowers and other native plants will provide mason bees with an excellent source of pollen and nectar. Bees are most attracted to blue, purple, and yellow flowers with flat or shallow blossoms.
Creating a safe nesting habitat in your yard can do a lot to help the local mason bee population thrive. Orchard mason bees make their nests in reeds and other natural holes by creating individual cells for their offspring divided by mud partitions. They’re also just as happy to make their home in a man-made container. You can purchase wood bee houses from your local garden supply store or build one at home. Wooden blocks with holes drilled in them, hollow reeds bound together, or pull-apart wooden blocks are particularly good nesting materials.
It’s incredibly important that you avoid using insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides in or near your garden. If you can refrain from using them anywhere on your property, that’s even better. These poisons can be lethal to a number of our friendly pollinators, as well as the insects that destroy garden pests.
Happy gardening, friends!
Liz Greene is a dog loving, history studying, pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.