Planning for Pollinators

Pollinators help produce about three quarters of the world’s cultivated crops and about 80% of all flowering plants. Without bees, wasps, bats, butterflies, beetles, flies, and hummingbirds our diets and our gardens would look very different… bleak.

Fortunately, as gardeners, we have the opportunity to create welcoming habitats and delicious meals not just for humans, but for an array of helpful fauna. Pollinators can thrive in a growing space of any size. A small garden (as small as a flower pot on a fire escape) is important for addressing the stresses caused by development. Such flowering oases are particularly important for migrating pollinators–such as monarch butterflies–that need nectar sources throughout their long journey. Some of our favorites for smaller spaces and containers include Teddy Bear Sunflowers, Persian Carpet Zinnia, flowering Thyme, Sacred Basil, and Purpletop Vervain.

A large garden–a homestead production plot or a maintained meadow–are also essential for pollinator well-being, as they provide not only a source of food, but a safe home and breeding ground as well. To invite pollinators into your growing space, simply meet their basic needs: food, water, and shelter.

Torch Tithonia and monarch butterfly

Monarchs love Torch Tithonia.


Pollinators feed on nectar. The greater the amount of flowering plant varieties, the greater the amount of pollinators that will be attracted. Attracting plants aren’t limited to ornamental flowers; many herb and vegetable blossoms also provide desirable nectar sources. Take a look at our collection of Pollinator Attractors to get started. A diverse selection of flowers–of varying shape, size, bloom time, color, and height–will equal a greater diversity, population, and well-being of pollinators. Always grow organically when creating habitats for pollinators: chemical applications are harmful to them. Choose regional, heirloom seeds whenever possible, as they have evolved together with pollinators and adapted to meet one another’s needs.

bees sipping water

Provide a dish of water or birdbath.


Pollinators, just like gardeners and plants, need fresh water to survive. Shallow pools with floating elements (for flying pollinators to land on) are ideal –even a small tray (or bird bath) with a few twigs floating in it will work. Some pollinators make use of muddy water for providing them with important minerals or even building material (for bee hives), which may make you see the pesky mud puddle in your garden path in a whole new light.

Freshen the water regularly, especially during dry spells, and enjoy watching bees, wasps, and other beneficial insects pausing to sip throughout the day.

Wildflowers gone to seed

Undisturbed areas provide habitat.


The best shelter for pollinators, whatever the size, is an undisturbed, slightly wild section of the garden. Plant native flowers and grasses to provide a safe home for pollinators to lay eggs, grow larvae, and even overwinter. To provide additional nesting ground, leave some plant stems intact, after you’ve harvested from them, turn flowerpots with drainage holes upside down, and leave piles of brush and twigs laying about. If you are working with a large space, consider planting a wildflower meadow to grow your own healthy pollinator city and improve the overall ecosystem not just of your garden, but your larger neighborhood.