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  • David Salman

Creating your Earth-friendly Garden

If all of us gardeners focus on putting pollinator and bird habitat back into our urban, suburban, and rural gardens and landscapes, we can make a huge difference. Here are tips to help you get started or continue creating food and habitat with the right mix of flowering plants, trees, and shrubs.

1) Plant A Wide Variety of Plant Types

Bumblebee on Heliopsis

Use a wide diversity of plant types and varieties to make your garden more resilient from invasive foreign insect pests and provide a wider spectrum of pollinator-friendly species. Make sure you have a good mix of regionally suitable trees, shrubs, perennials, re-seeding annuals, ornamental grasses, vines, and cold-hardy succulents.

Agastache 'Ava'

2) Plant a Mix of Native and Old World Plants

Plant as many native plants (found growing naturally in North America) as possible, especially species found in your region. Native plants provide “natural nectar” that feeds butterflies, moths, pollinating flies, bumblebees, and other native bees as well as hummingbirds. Strive to plant fewer common Old World plants (plants native to Europe, Asia, and South Africa) and replace them with natives. I recommend a ratio of 70-80% natives to 20-30% Old World species to provide the right mix of flowers to attract a wide variety of pollinating insects and hummingbirds.

3) Plant More Native Trees and Shrubs

Make it a point to plant more native trees and shrubs; unfortunately, non-native woody plant species greatly outnumber native species in the nursery trade. So seek out native woody plants as they are essential for providing food for moth and butterfly caterpillars while Old World woody plants do not. Without caterpillars, there will be no butterflies and moths to pollinate the plants.

colorful Quercus fall foliage

4) Plant to Provide Flowers Over the Whole Growing Season

Learn when plants bloom so you can plan to have flowers from early spring through fall. So many of our gardens are front-loaded with spring bloomers, with far fewer, if any, late summer and fall bloomers. To keep pollinators coming to your yard, don’t just service breakfast (spring-blooming). Be sure you’re providing lunch (summer blooming) and dinner (fall blooming) too.

5) Plant Their Favorite Plants from the Old World

Honeybees* live in large colonies and are extremely competitive with solitary native bees. Honeybees generally outnumber native bees in a big way. So plant Old World species that attract honeybees such that native bees (many of which need nectar from specific native plants) will have nectar available from their preferred native plants.

Old World flowers that are favorites of honeybees include flowering bulbs like crocus, daffodils, tulips, herbs like lavender, oregano, rosemary, ornamental perennials like sage (Salvia), catmint (Nepeta), calamint (Calamintha), ornamental onion (Allium) as well as woody plants like lilacs, blue mist spirea (Caryopteris), Russian sage (Perovskia), flowering crabapples, cherries, hawthorns, and fruiting trees are all excellent.

In regions like the Intermountain West where they are not invasive, plant Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) and Chaste tree (Vitex) for their invaluable summer nectar. Out East, plant new Buddleia cultivars that have been bred to be sterile and won’t re-seed themselves. (* Honeybees are Old World insects from Europe, Asia, and Africa and often feed on Old World flowers first.)

Buddleia alternifolia Argentea

6) Provide Water

Have a reliable water source in your yard. Hummingbirds need a dripping or gentle spray of water from a fountain. Butterflies need a mud puddle. Bees like a birdbath with still water.

Birdbath at Stone Forest

7) Provide Nesting Sites for Bees

Provide nesting places for native bees. Use native bee nesting tube bundles placed on protected east-facing walls and fences. Where possible leave a snag (dead tree) to provide additional nesting sites for bumblebees and other native bee species. Leave open ground, uncovered by weed barrier cloth or mulch as many native bees nest in ground burrows.

8) Garden Organically

Garden organically as best as you can. Chemical fertilizers are the primary source of nitrogen pollution in our streams and rivers. All of this nitrogen flows to the oceans where algal blooms are poisoning their waters. Chemical insecticides and herbicides that kill insects and weeds are injurious to humans and our pets and contaminate the environment. Pollinators are highly sensitive to chemical poisons.

9) Never Use Systemic Insecticides

NEVER use systemic neonicotinoids insecticides. These horrible poisons will translocate into the flowers contaminating the nectar and will kill or weaken pollinators that sip from the tainted flowers! Go online and learn what common systemic insecticide brands contain neonicotinoids.

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