Plants can make plenty of pollen but many plants have no pollen transportation system. They have no way to get the pollen to female flowers so seeds and, ultimately, new plants can be produced. That’s where pollinators come in.
Insects, especially bees and butterflies, and birds, especially hummingbirds, are the major transporters of pollen between plants. I know that, in springtime, some people find their houses and cars covered in yellow pollen. These plants, which depend on the wind to spread their pollen, are few and far between. Most plants depend on the birds and the bees, and the plants reward these pollinators with nice, sweet nectar.
The plummeting number of pollinators is a very real concern today, and property owners are being asked to give nature some help by increasing the pollinator population. This can best be done by providing them with a welcoming environment.
Start by watching for pollinators visiting your flowering plants. As they land on flowers in search of nectar, pollen sticks to their feet. They then fly to another plant searching for more nectar and deposit the pollen. If there aren’t plenty of honey bees, butterflies or hummingbirds visiting your plants, it’s time to start shopping for pollinator-attracting plants, beginning with fall blooming plants. Select good varieties of native, flowering plants, and plant them in clumps. Many will have a notation on the nursery tag that they attract pollinators.
Native plants are recommended because pollinators aren’t connoisseurs. They have their preferred flowers and don’t deviate or experiment with new food sources. They also don’t like pesticides, so eliminate them wherever possible.
It’s also important to include plants preferred by butterfly larvae. These plants may not enhance your flower bed, however. For example, milkweed is the only food monarch butterfly larvae will eat. Not only are the plants unsightly but the larvae eat the leaves and the chewed up leaves will also add to the plants’ unsightliness. So, plant them somewhere inconspicuous. The butterflies will find them.
Butterflies and hummingbirds have some additional needs. They need water to drink and bathe in. A birdbath is fine for hummingbirds but it’s too deep for butterflies. They prefer a saucer of water placed on the ground or near to the ground. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service suggests lightly salting the water.
There may not be enough nectar to completely satisfy the whole pollinator population. In that case, put out another saucer of rotting fruit for the butterflies and a hummingbird feeder for the hummingbirds. Garden centers and online garden supply sites have special butterfly plates so you don’t have to use your good china. They also have butterfly houses that you can hang in trees. Don’t worry about shelter for bees. They come from nearby hives.
Establishing a pollinator garden will enhance your current landscape while helping to provide habitat for this important group of wildlife. If you prefer our professional expertise, our landscape pros can help you with any aspect or with the entire project.
In parts of the West Coast of California, there is plenty of pollen for pollinators, but it is the wrong kind of pollen. Although they keep the monarch butterflies happy, the naturalized blue gum and red gum eucalypti distract pollinators from native specie that rely on them. Some eucalyptus groves are famous for attracting swarming monarch butterflies, who do not seem to mind that it is an exotic food source that they probably should not be interested in. (One of the advantages that eucalypti maintained for decades is that there were no insects here who were interested in eating them, but there are plenty who like their nectar.)