There are lots of good reasons to attract pollinators to your garden, bee-cause (ha!) these species are important to agriculture, as many recent articles have pointed out. (They’ll also help pollinate your vegetables and fruit trees, of course, which can improve yields quite a bit. Also, many pollinators are also predatory animals who will eat other insect pests in your garden.)
Much of the focus has been on colony collapse disorder among imported honeybees, which serve a very crucial role in our food system. But native bees are also in decline, as are many other pollinators like butterflies and bats. These native pollinators suffer from habitat loss, among other problems.
World-at-large issues aside, another reason to attract pollinators to your yard is that it’s legit fun. I still get excited every time I see a bee bumbling around trying to get stuff done. Think of your garden as an office tower, and the pollinators as your tiny workers. (Full disclosure: I’m not claiming this metaphor makes any sense. I’m just saying, I like watching them toiling away.)
Gardeners can do a lot to help native pollinators by:
- planting pollinator-friendly plants, including native plants
- making sure that there’s something in bloom for them throughout the season
- providing open water sources and insect habitats in their yards
- not using chemical pesticides.
Even a single flowering plant can make a difference, but a larger area planted with multiple flowers is more likely to attract pollinators. Include a little water feature of some kind (it can be a puddle, or a shallow bowl of water) and turn your yard into a pollinator spa! Optional: Leave tiny vegan meals out for them! Offer yoga once a week!
^ I went outside just now to look for a picture to include in this post, and this cute guy was happily feasting on my chives. BACK TO WORK, BEE! YOGA ISN’T UNTIL TOMORROW!
Great perennials for pollinators in zone 3:
- Borage. Borage is not a perennial but it does self-seed, so I sort of consider it one. Plant it once and you’ll never want for bees again.
- Monarda Didyma (Scarlet beebalm – this is my first year growing this one!) and Monarda Fistulosa (wild bergamot – I’ve tried this one many times, but I think this is the first time my seedlings have actually flourished, yay)
- Honeysuckle. My honeysuckle vine is always full of bees as soon as the flowers bloom – which should be any day.
- Chives and Golden Bean are both early bloomers that will provide food before much else in in bloom. Dandelions are also supposedly good for this. Don’t plant any on purpose, but if you’ve got ’em, let some flower. (If anyone gives you a hard time about it, then you have a great cover: It’s for the bees, jerk. Think of the bees.)
- Cherry trees are another great early-season flower, if you have room for one. You know who else can eat what grows on cherry trees? HUMAN BEINGS.
- Asters – an important source of fall forage for bees.
- Milkweeds of all kinds (last year I added Showy Milkweed and Low Milkweed in my front yard), including Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed – I am growing this this year for the first time!)
Another major factor, besides what you plant, is what you spray your yard/garden with. Neonicotinoids are the pesticides that are particularly lethal to bees, and this year I’ve seen several photos people have posted on social media of plants purchased at Home Depot garden centres that have been pre-treated with them to keep other pests away. Home Depot committed to having their suppliers label these plants just last year, so chances are, it’s not that they’ve just started using them; more likely, many of us who shop at big-box stores have bought them in the past without even knowing, because the plants weren’t labelled. As this article from Wired points out, if you plant a bee-friendly plant that’s been treated with a bee-killing pesticide, you’re probably doing more harm than good: basically laying a lethal bee-enticing trap, like some kind of unintentional Bond villain.
More than half of ostensibly bee-friendly plants sampled at 18 Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart garden centers in the U.S. and Canada contained high levels of neonicotinoids, which are considered highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators.
Ugh. So for maximum bee-karma, maybe try to get those plants by dividing a friend or neighbour’s established perennial, or grow them from seed – or get them from a local grower who can assure you they haven’t been treated with pesticides.
Upcoming event: Planting for Pollinators, John Janzen Nature Centre, July 31st
Edmonton Naturalization Group – Native Plants for Bees & Butterflies [pdf]
Specific to Edmonton! Can’t get much better than this.
Included due to awesome title: Nature Conservancy Canada – My native species bring all the pollinators to the yard