Do you remember the days of being afraid of bees (you may still be if you’re allergic) or thinking they were inconvenient pests? Whether you’ve just started gardening or have been digging in the dirt for years, then you probably understand the importance of those buzzing bees and other pollinators. Pollinators are incredibly important for any garden, no matter if you’re growing vegetables, flowers, fruits, or herbs. These powerful insects and birds can make or break your harvest, so what’s a gardener to do to attract pollinators to the garden?
Pollinators are vital to the production of foods and flowers. Without bees, birds and other insects visiting plant blooms and spreading pollen among the plants, our food sources would severely dwindle. And while hand pollination is certainly an option for some fruits and veggies, attracting pollinators to the garden is the easiest (and most beautiful) way to see nature produce its best.
Attracting pollinators to your vegetable garden is an easy way to keep plants producing and the pollinator community thriving. It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship! All you need to do is plant a few specific plants that pollinators can’t resist. For me, this would be chocolate, but for pollinators, think beautiful blooms and berries!
How to Attract Pollinators to the Garden
Bring on the bees of all varieties, birds, and butterflies, too. These hard working garden helpers will be drawn to your garden space if you help to provide them with valuable food sources. This looks different at different times of year, so let’s dive into food for pollinators.
Year Around Food Source
Pollinators need to eat year around, so by having an attractive meal growing in your garden year-round the bees and birds will come.
An available year-round food source will also encourage pollinators to stay in your area and have families of their own. What food sources would be considered year-round? Part of this depends on the zone you’re gardening in. While cut flowers and blooms usually have a season and then they’re spent, consider a hedgerow of native plants that produce food for your pollinators. This may include berry producing shrubs or low trees that bloom at varying times. Not only will a hedgerow with food for pollinators serve as a food source, but some varieties of birds may even take up residence. If you’re a bird-watcher, then this is a win-win. Check out the American Horticulture Society’s information on creating a hedgerow for your local pollinators. You can also reach out to your local cooperative extension office to help develop a plan for bushes and shrubs that will feed your local garden pollinators year-round.
Spring Food Sources for Pollinators
Crocus are one of the first food sources to show up in the spring and can provide a nectar-rich meal while snow is still on the ground. Plant crocus, snowdrop, and forsythia to attract pollinators to your landscape, and give you a break from a bleak winter landscape. Once pollinators arrive, they will hang around and see what else is on the menu. Have other bulbs planted in succession to provide an ongoing spring feast. Think of daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips as well.
All fruit trees that bloom in the spring are an irresistible attraction for pollinators. Plant a couple apple, pear, peach or plum trees in your garden to increase food production, landscape beauty and feed the pollinators. Smaller fruit bushes, such as blueberry are also perfect for feeding your pollinators. Our blueberry bush, which is currently blooming (it’s late March here), has a constant buzz around it from all of the bees getting to work on pollinating. I love that sound!
Summer Food Sources for Pollinators
It’s summer, and that means vegetable gardening! Attract pollinators to your vegetable garden by growing plants that have yellow blooms. This seems to be the favorite bloom color of bees and many other pollinators. You’ll probably notice that you’re also drawn to the bright yellow blooms when you look at your garden.
Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and melons all produce nectar-rich yellow blooms and will attract various pollinators that will dart in and out of each bloom.
Increase the yellow bloom color by planting marigolds in the vegetable garden. These fragrant flowers attract pollinators to the garden while repelling harmful garden pests such as nematodes. Zinnias also come in a variety of colors and are a favorite of butterflies in our garden. And since they offer blooms with height, they’re a great vertical addition to your garden space.
Fall Food Sources for Pollinators
Nectar producing plants are winding down as fall begins, and the pollinator’s food source is dwindling. Allow some of the basil you planted during the summer to go to seed and produce nectar-rich blooms to keep pollinators in your garden. While the flavor of basil after it blooms isn’t quite as good, I still find that I can dry many of the leaves later in the fall and use them in the winter months.
Sweet alyssum is a flower that produces white blooms in the fall and will provide a good meal for hungry pollinators. Pineapple sage will also produce beautiful red blooms in the fall that could give you quite a few hummingbird visitors, and if you have some space in your yard for goldenrod, then this incredible yellow blooms will draw the pollinators in. (It’s the yellow color, right?)
Winter Food Sources for Pollinators
Grow a few plants in your garden that will be a winter food source for pollinators in your area. By attracting pollinators to your garden in winter with a free meal, they will stay around until spring and help your garden grow. The plants will also enhance the appearance of your winter landscape.
These winter food sources for pollinators may include Japanese camellias, winter jasmine, or Chinese witch hazel to provide a fresh meal for birds and bees. Seed heads from summer flowers are also a good winter food source for pollinating birds. So don’t worry about cleaning up all of your spent plants from the summer and fall. Leave some for your neighborhood pollinators, and your yard and garden will reap the benefits of a pollinator-friendly environment.
Avoiding Chemical Pesticides
Did you know that went sprays and other “pest control” measures are used in the garden, pests aren’t the only ones who suffer? Pollinators can also be affected by these chemicals, and our gardens so desperately need pollinators. So, what’s a gardener to do? Natural pest control methods are another way we can encourage more pollinators in the garden. For a home gardener’s guide to natural pest control, check out my newest book. It’s a wonderful and easy-to-use resource for preventing, treating, and getting rid of garden pests without the use of harsh chemicals and poisons. Protect the pollinators!
I’d love to know what you grow to encourage pollinators to visit your yard and garden. I know these suggestions will vary by zone, but I find that we gardeners can learn so much from each other, so please share by commenting below. Have a great week and happy gardening!