Attracting pollinators to your garden is easy to do and offers tremendous benefits. There are numerous species of pollinators, from the creepy and crawly to the furry and fluttery, so you can modify your garden to cater to desired types or local ecosystems.
Proven methods to attract pollinators to your garden involve cultivating particular varieties of plants, using certain colors, and otherwise accommodating their needs and preferences. Avoiding pesticides and providing shelter are also key practices for encouraging pollinators to visit your garden.
Whether you want to modify an existing garden or plant the perfect pollinators’ playground, this article is for you. We’ve got thirteen methods to bring more pollinators into your garden that are easy to do and proven to work.
1. Cultivate a Certain Variety of Plants
If there is a particular pollinator you are trying to bring in, then you will want to plant a garden that contains the plants they prefer and are drawn to.
For example, if you wish to attract birds, plant flowers of brighter colors with funnels, tubes, or cups that are open during the day. Birds typically enjoy petals that curve back and are out of the way, as well as strong supports upon which they can perch. Odorless flowers are fine because birds have a poor sense of smell, and the scent is not what attracts them.
Bats, on the other hand, will visit very fragrant flowers that are open at night. They prefer large flowers that are white or otherwise pale-colored as they are easier to spot in the dark.
Even if your garden serves as more functional than decorative, i.e., you are growing mostly vegetables, herbs, and other foods, you should still consider bringing flowers into the scene wherever possible. Even if you think space is limited, there are ways around navigating small spaces, and it will prove beneficial for food production and your garden’s overall health in the end.
Diversity is needed to gain maximum benefits from pollinators in your garden. Plant several kinds of plants to attract a diverse group of pollinators, being sure to use flowers of all types, colors, shapes, and sizes.
2. Add Key Colors That Attract Pollinators
Color has been determined to play a major role in attracting pollinators, and researchers continue to uncover further insight on this subject.
Here are some easy-to-follow guidelines on which colors attract whch pollinators:
|White, yellow, or otherwise pale
|Red, orange, yellow, and white
|Blue, purple, yellow, and white
|Brown and yellow
|Red, pink, lavender, and purple
|White, yellow, or otherwise pale
|Dull green/white, and dark reddish-brown
|White, yellow, or dull to dark brown/purple
3. Include Fruit Trees in Your Garden
All fruits begin with a flower, many of which rely on pollination to produce fruit. And depending on the type of tree and flowers it produces, you can attract the specific pollinators you prefer. Mango, cherry, and many peach trees, for example, produce thousands of small flowers ranging from white and yellow to pale or bright pink, depending on the variety. In contrast, pomegranate trees produce a bright red, round flower that is larger and easily spotted.
Plus, the sheer size of the tree and the volume in which flowers are produced will allow for several pollinators to visit your garden at once, with little need to fight over what is available. Naturally, many will leave the tree to explore and pollinate other treats you have waiting around the yard.
But having any tree will serve useful because, really, it’s like placing a hotel in the middle of a thriving city, but for pollinators. And a tree in your fabulous garden is comparable to staying on the outskirts of a theme park on vacation.
Trees provide shade, shelter, and nesting spots for many pollinators. They are also a great place to incorporate things like birdhouses or feeders (the more squirrel-proof, the better) to further lure the pollinators towards your plants.
4. Include Native Plants in Your Garden
It’s important to choose plants commonly found in your locale that are suited to the surrounding ecosystem. Non-native plants may be incapable of providing sufficient nectar or be inedible for some pollinators like caterpillars.
Some pollinators feed on specific plants because they’ve learned to do so. Pollinators that are native to the area have evolved alongside the native plants, and have adapted to the local soils, climate, and growing seasons together.
5. Arrange Plants in a Way Pollinators Cannot Miss Them
A best-practice in maintaining pollinator-friendly gardens is to create designated microhabitats for different pollinators.
Most pollinators are attracted to big displays of plants they prefer, so planting in masses helps draw them near. Plus, clustering multiples of a single flower variety together will increase the chances of pollination. Assist the process further by planting in sweeps to shorten the distance pollinators must travel between plants.
6. Have a Place for Pollinators to Drink Water
It’s not always enough to simply provide the flowers that pollinators feed on. An ideal environment will include a birdbath or small pools of water so birds and butterflies can have a drink with their meal.
7. Provide Shelter Points in Your Garden
Certain species have particular shelter needs you’ll want to consider when designing your garden, but in general, you should provide shelter via specific planting, windbreaks, and overwintering areas. Shelterbelts can serve as nesting sites and will also provide cover in windy conditions and other adverse weather.
8. Let Your Plants and Herbs Bloom
Cultivation tricks like pruning should be kept to the bare minimum or avoided entirely if it isn’t essential for plant health. Instead, plants and herbs should be allowed to bloom to attract more pollinators for longer periods.
You should also try and plant varieties that bloom at different times throughout the year to support a wide range of pollinators.
9. Avoid Pesticides or Use Organic Options
Pesticides will affect species other than the aphids and other pests you are trying to keep at bay and lower the population of local pollinators as a consequence. You should avoid using pesticides, if possible, to keep your garden as nature friendly as possible. If this isn’t an option, look into organic methods instead to be more compatible with the natural ecosystem.
Pests might even be a way for you to attract pollinators, as many naturally feed on these pests along with nectar and can help maintain a pest-free garden.
10. Build or Buy a Bat House
Bats are excellent pollinators, so it’s a good idea to encourage bats to stay near your garden by providing them a home. Bats are nocturnal creatures, so they sleep during the day and are active at night. Place the bat house in a quiet area of the garden where they won’t be disturbed during the day. Bat houses cost around $25 – $50 so they are a great inexpensive way to get a few extra pollinators to your garden.
11. Start Beekeeping
Beekeeping can be a fun and rewarding hobby and is a great way to ensure your garden’s healthy pollination. Honeybees will visit anywhere from 50 to 100 flowers in a single collection trip, so imagine how effective an entire colony could be. But beekeeping is also a serious business that requires a bit of know-how.
For starters, it requires specific varieties of bees to keep a colony and build hives as nearly three-quarters of all bees prefer to be alone, living in individual nests they tunnel into the soil. In fact, 85 percent of bees worldwide are solitary, and it’s a tiny percentage of those that work together to construct hives.
In North America, for example, only bumblebees and the introduced species of European honeybees live in colonies and keep hives.
Additionally, improper beekeeping could lead to Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD, which is when a honeybee colony suddenly disappears, only leaving behind the queen and a few immature bees. This is something that only occurs with honeybees from managed hives. In other words, it is we who bring about the problem. The cause of the disease is yet to be determined, though factors such as pesticides, malnutrition, and stress are all under review as a suspect.
If you are thinking about beekeeping, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a great beginner’s guide broken down into seven chapters beginning with discussing the pros and cons of beekeeping and if it’s right for you.
12. Shelter Your Garden from Strong Winds to Attract Bees
Many pollinators, like bees, are lightweight, and they get easily upset by strong gusts of wind. Incorporate fences, walls, hedges, shrubs, or even some tall plants into your garden to protect bees against strong gusts of wind.
13. Provide Proper Sunlight to Keep Bees Happy
Bees prefer the sun at particular times during the day. Allowing for appropriate exposure to the sun will ensure success in attracting bees, maintaining nesting sites, and help with beekeeping in general.
For example, wood-nesting species require sun on the holes of their nesting blocks in the morning but not in the afternoon, while bumblebees tend to prefer partial shade overall. In general, ground-nesting sites should face south, so they see more of the sun throughout the day.
What Types of Animals, Birds, and Insects Are Pollinators?
Pollinators are critical to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Without the work of these essential creatures, the majority of all flowering plants on the planet would perish.
There are hundreds of thousands of species worldwide that serve as pollinators. A small percentage of these are vertebrates, such as bats, birds, and small mammals like rodents, shrews, marsupials, and even lizards. The remaining are invertebrates and include bees, wasps, flies, ants, beetles, butterflies, moths, and more.
Lesser-Known Animal Pollinators
While we often don’t think of them when we think about pollination, it is believed that around 9 percent of all mammals and birds are pollinators. Bats and birds are better known for the job, and we’ll look at them in a minute. However, there are several mammals you’ve likely never even considered to be pollinators.
For example, a recent discovery in South Africa observed large-spotted genets and Cape grey mongooses, which are both carnivores, pollinating sugarbush plants. The Cape Rock sengi, a member of the elephant shrew family, has also been observed choosing nectar over other foods and helping in pollination.
In Madagascar, lemurs are known pollinators, as these primates have been seen dipping into the flowers of traveler’s palm trees with their paws or pushing in with their snouts to drink nectar.
Phelsuma, or the day gecko, and several other lizards have pollen and nectar in their diets, not just insects and other invertebrates.
And even though they don’t contribute as significantly as other pollinators, various rodents like rats, and even slugs, are known to spread traces of pollen while scrounging for food or crawling around, respectively.
Bats are perhaps the best-known mammal pollinator due to their critical role in desert and tropical climates. Upwards of 300 species of fruit rely on them for pollination, as do Saguaro and Agave plants.
Along with the nectar and flower parts, bats will eat insects inside the flowers, including many pests that damage crops. Additionally, fruit-eating bats help restore rainforests because they disperse seeds throughout clearings and otherwise damaged areas. Furthermore, bat droppings are one of the most valued natural fertilizers there is.
Hummingbirds are indeed the celebrity of pollinating birds, at least in North America, as they are vital to wildflower pollination. But around the globe, sunbirds, spiderhunters, honeyeaters, and honeycreepers are all common species that pollinate. In fact, there are over 2,000 bird species worldwide that feed on nectar-bearing flowers and the insects and spiders associated with them.
Perhaps most surprising is that parrots pollinate flowers also. In Australia, for instance, the swift parrot lives on nectar and pollen from the Tasmanian blue gem tree and is considered to be more effective than insects in pollinating these trees. The brush-tongued parrot of New Guinea also tracks pollen across its tropical climate.
This is the pollinator almost everyone knows about, particularly since the alarm was raised sounding threat of extinction of honeybees. Bees are the only insects that create a food we eat and are responsible for the pollination of around 35 percent of all food grown for human consumption. Overall, there are as many as 25,000 different bee species around the globe.
These little buzzers have an amazing sense of smell and can distinguish between hundreds of various flower types and can even detect from large distances if a flower is carrying pollen or nectar. And honeybees, specifically, have been known to fly as far as four miles away from their hive to collect pollen.
Apoid wasps are the ancestors from which bees evolved, so we see many similarities between their behaviors. And while many wasp varieties do not play a role in pollination, there are a few that do. Wasps typically don’t have soft hairs covering their body like bees. Instead, they have a kind of storage pouch which they use to move pollen around effectively.
It has even been determined that some wasps carry yeasts to grapes used in winemaking. This suggests wasps have an important contribution to the fermentation process and various flavors in wine.
Their significance is further accentuated by knowing that without wasps, there would be no figs (and vice versa). Agaonidae wasps are the sole pollinators to all fig species except the Mediterranean variety–only Blastophaga wasps pollinate those. In fact, it’s a relationship of coevolution between these plants and their pollinators, becasue neither can survive without the other.
Butterflies are another well-known pollinator that many people enjoy bringing to their gardens.
Depending on the species or where you live, however, you may not get to enjoy these beautiful creatures for long. The Monarch butterflies, for instance, travel a distance of nearly 4,000 miles each year, migrating between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico—pollinating along the way—so you may only be able to enjoy them during certain seasons in certain locations. (Of course, you could get around this by raising your own butteflies, if you so desired.)
But there’s also the issue of lifespan. Some butterfly species can live up to a year, but others don’t make it that long. Some will perish after just two weeks. Granted, even two weeks of payoff in butterflies is incredibly rewarding and often majestic, but something to keep in mind before you commit to developing that butterfly garden you’ve been dreaming of.
As another interesting point, adult butterflies don’t actually eat. Rather, they go for a liquid diet. You may spot them drinking the liquids from flowers and juices from rotten fruit, as those are the main sources of their nutrition. But they’ll also drink sweat or liquid waste from animals. And if that is the alternative, well, the labor for a few butterfly-friendly flowers certainly seems more justified.
Although some moths are notable agricultural pests, many are significant pollinators. This is primarily due to their hairy bodies. And while some moth species are nocturnal, many can be seen pollinating flowers in the daytime, including Hummingbird Moths.
Moths are not often the first thing you think of when considering pollinators. But it may behoove you to attract moths to your garden simply because the odds are good you’ll get some. In the United States, for example, there are over 11,000 species of moths. That is more than all species of mammals and birds in North America combined. Overall, moths outnumber their closest relative, butterflies, more than 10 to 1.
Beetles, another pollinator that often goes unconsidered, are actually the largest group of all pollinating animals due to the vast number of them that exist. They are also one of the first known insects to visit flowers, dating back 200 million years to the Mesozoic era, and remain today as an essential pollinator, responsible for pollinating nearly 90 percent of all flowering plants on Earth today.
Many beetles require flowers with wide openings, as many are, shall we say, clumsy fliers, and larger targets fair for better landings. But keep in mind some beetles eat through flower petals and other parts, which can turn them into more of a pest. And if you’ve ever heard these insects referred to as the “mess and soil” pollinators, well, that’s because many defecate inside flowers, indeed soiling them and leaving behind a mess.
Additionally, many species of beetles eat pollen, and a lot of it! The plants they visit must produce abundant pollen supplies to ensure there is still enough to pollinate the flower once they finish eating.
Easily the unsung hero of pollinators, flies are the second most important pollinating insects after bees. They are the primary pollinators for several plants, both wild and cultivated, particularly in alpine and arctic environments where conditions don’t readily accommodate bee activity.
Over 160,000 species of flies abundantly occupy terrestrial habitats worldwide and serve as a valuable part of the ecosystem. Not just pollinators, they also serve as pest control, food for birds and fish, soil conditioners and decomposers, and even indicators of water quality.
Flies regularly visit over 100 cultivated crops, which depend on them for abundant fruit and seed production, and they are essential for pollinating the cocoa tree. So, if you are a fan of chocolate, by default, you are a fan of flies. Additionally, flies help to pollinate several popular choices in home gardening, including:
- And much, much more!
Attracting pollinators to your garden is easy to do once you know how to do it. By utilizing multiple methods and best practices, you can create a great habitat that will bring in a wide range of pollinators. This will make for a happy, healthy ecosystem and an awe-inspiring garden that exists just outside your front or back door.