A lot is being written in both the garden media and the mainstream media about the status of pollinators in the environment. These stories all concentrate on bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. They aren’t the only pollinators but they’re the only ones we can help and they pollinate more plants than any other pollinators.
Allergy sufferers know all too well that some pollen is spread by the wind. Most trees are monoecious, which means they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers are at the top of the plant and the female flowers are lower down and gravity and wind take care of the pollination process. We can’t affect either the wind or gravity, so I’ll concentrate on those pollinators that we can help.
Butterflies and hummingbirds are the most attractive pollinators but bees are the most productive. Any of these pollinators need three essentials – food, water and shelter. Beautiful butterflies are the most popular pollinators, followed closely by colorful hummingbirds. Docile, hard working honey bees have gotten a bad rap from some of their more aggressive relatives.
Butterflies need flowering plants. The brighter the flowers the better. When butterflies land on flowers, it’s to extract sweet nectar. While doing that, however, pollen sticks to their feet and legs. When they land on another plant to imbibe on its nectar, the pollen drops on the new flower and fertilizes it. To supplement your flowers, especially when your garden is just getting started, butterflies would appreciate your putting out a dish of half rotted fruit. If you visit a butterfly conservatory, you’ll see this butterfly feast at strategic spots. Hummingbird feeders are also available for your yard.
Butterflies and birds both need fresh water. Birds will use birdbaths but they are too big for butterflies. Butterflies can drown in a birdbath but some garden stores and online garden supply houses sell special butterfly puddling stones. A small, shallow saucer works, too
You also have to consider the diet of immature butterflies – caterpillars – if you want to enjoy the delicate, flitting adults. These will vary with the species that you want to attract. The most common species in our area is the popular monarch butterfly, and their caterpillars eat only milkweeds, so you need milkweed plants somewhere in your landscape.
Special butterfly houses and hummingbird houses are sold by some garden stores and online garden supply houses. But are they used? I doubt it. Butterflies rest in sheltered places like under leaves and hummingbirds rest high in trees and in shrub thickets.
When you establish a pollinator garden, you can’t hang out a sign that welcomes butterflies and hummingbirds and directs bees to go elsewhere. However, you don’t have to put out the welcome mat. If you don’t establish a hive, any bees that visit will likely be from an already established hive. It could be right nearby or a considerable distance away. Unless you really want to become a beekeeper, my advice is to leave that to the professionals.
Speaking of professionals, our landscape designers and horticulturists can design a pollinator garden with just the right plants to attract the pollinators who frequent this area, and our landscape professionals can complete the installation as soon as the weather breaks. All you have to do is enjoy the colorful show that these creatures put on.