Planning for Pollinators: Growing Friendly Habitats in Any Growing Space

by Tusha Yakovleva

echPollinators 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 respites are particularly important for migrating pollinators - such as Monarch butterflies - that need nectar sources throughout their long journey. 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.

Food: 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 top 20 Attracting Varieties 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. 

Water: Pollinators, just like gardeners and plants, need 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.

Shelter: The best shelter for pollinators, whatever the size, is an undisturbed, slightly wild section of the garden. Leaving a corner partially un-weeded and planting native flowers and grasses (in clumps rather than rows) there will create 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 eco-system not just of your garden, but your larger neighborhood.