Figaro's Blog

June 21, 2023

Pollinator Gardening: A Guide to Creating a Thriving Habitat

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Welcome to the Figaro’s Garden guide to pollinator gardening! If you’ve ever been awed by the sight of a Western Swallowtail butterfly flitting from flower to flower or delighted in the gentle hum of bees going about their essential work, then you already understand the magic of pollinators. These incredible creatures play a crucial role in our ecosystem, facilitating the pollination of flowers, fruits, and vegetables and ensuring the reproduction and diversity of plant life.

At Figaro’s Garden, we believe in the power of pollinator gardening to not only add another layer of beauty to the garden but to also support the health of our environment. Plus, seeing pollinators in the garden is so rewarding for the gardener!

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of pollinator gardening and provide you with practical tips and advice on how to create a thriving habitat in your own backyard or patio.

A hummingbird sips nectar from agastache

Understanding Pollinators

Pollinators are often-overlooked heroes, silently working to ensure the survival of countless plant species. Bees, butterflies, birds, and even bats are among the diverse group of pollinators that contribute to this critical process. As they visit flowers in search of nectar or pollen, they inadvertently transfer pollen grains from the male parts of a flower to the female parts, enabling fertilization and seed production.

However, pollinators are facing significant challenges. Factors such as habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and disease have led to a decline in their populations worldwide. This decline is alarming because pollinators are not only essential for our gardens but also for the production of the food we rely on daily.

A pollinator garden with a sign reading "pardon the weeds we're feeding the bees"

Planning Your Pollinator Garden

Creating a pollinator-friendly garden is an act of environmental stewardship and an opportunity to connect with nature in your own backyard. To get started, consider whether you’ll designate one specific area to pollinator gardening or instead integrate pollinator-supporting plants throughout. Regardless, most pollinator plants prefer a sunny location. Additionally, pollinators—especially bees— thrive in warm and sunny environments.

One of the key factors in a successful pollinator garden is a continuous supply of nectar and pollen throughout the year. In your planning, aim to create a succession of blooms to ensure a steady food source for pollinators.

You’ll also want to consider how you might provide habitat and a water source in order to make your garden a welcoming place for pollinators.

In the next section, we’ll delve into the essential elements needed to create a thriving pollinator garden, ensuring that your efforts yield maximum benefits for these remarkable creatures.

Bee - Apis mellifera - pollinates coneflower - Rudbeckia subtomentosa

Pollinator Gardening Essentials

Creating a pollinator-friendly garden involves providing the essential elements that attract and sustain these valuable critters. By incorporating the following elements, you’ll ensure a welcoming habitat for pollinators to thrive:

Plan for a succession of nectar-rich flowers and host plants

Verbena bonariensis is a favourite of bees.

Include a variety of nectar-rich flowers in your garden, considering flower shape, colour, and size. Different pollinators are attracted to different bloom types, so incorporate a diverse selection of flowering plants to cater to various pollinator species and their preferences. “Easy access” flowers (where pollen is clearly visible) will be more attractive to pollinators.

To support pollinators throughout the year, aim for a garden that offers a continuous supply of nectar and pollen. Select a variety of plants that bloom at different times, ensuring a steady food source for pollinators.

If you have the space, plant multiples of each kind of flowering plant to create large patches (rather than a one-of-this, one-of-that approach).

The Pollination Ecology Lab at SFU ran studies of “Pollinator-attractive garden plants.” These are the top 10 cultivated plants they found attractive to pollinators:

  1. Lavender
  2. Rhododendron
  3. White clover
  4. Cotoneaster
  5. Heather
  6. California lilac
  7. Purple toadflax
  8. Bachelor’s buttons
  9. Thyme
  10. Bellflower

See the full list of pollinator-attractive garden plants from this study.

Incorporate native plants

Red-flowering current is a BC native beloved by bees.

Flowers and leaves of a flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) covered with snow and ice.

Native plants are the backbone of any successful pollinator garden. They have evolved alongside local pollinators and provide essential food sources and habitats. Choose native plant species that thrive in our region and incorporate them into your garden design. Check out our blog post on gardening with native plants.

The Pollination Ecology Lab at SFU also ran a study of “pollinator-attractive wild plants of Metro Vancouver.” Their findings revealed the following as the top 10 wild (non-cultivated) species attractive to pollinators. Most are native plants.

  1. Nootka rose
  2. Snowberry
  3. Arctic lupine
  4. Fireweed
  5. Red-osier dogwood
  6. Black twinberry
  7. Black hawthorn
  8. Salmonberry
  9. Hardhack
  10. Baldhip rose

See the full SFU list of pollinator-attractive wild plants of Metro Vancouver.

Create pollinator corridors

Once you’ve chosen your plants, consider creating “pollinator corridors” by linking your garden with nearby green spaces. This can be achieved by planting native hedgerows, establishing wildflower meadows, or leaving patches of undisturbed natural habitat. These connections provide vital foraging opportunities and safe passage for pollinators.

Collaborate with neighbours to create contiguous habitat gardens (you might even register with the Butterflyway project).

Choose pesticide-free gardening

Don’t use pesticides. Pesticides harm pollinators and our wider ecosystem. Instead, embrace organic gardening practices—such as using natural pest deterrents—to maintain a healthy balance in your garden.

While you’re at it, perhaps don’t strictly eradicate all “weeds” like clover and dandelions. Bees love them.

Provide water and shelter

Pollinators require water for various purposes, including drinking, cooling, and reproduction. Butterflies, for instance, are attracted to shallow pools, mud puddles, or birdbaths where they can gather and sip water. If you don’t have a natural water source like a pond or stream, you can easily create one. Options range from adding a birdbath or a designated puddling area to installing a water garden. Another simple approach is to put out a shallow, open container or dish of water. Remember to change the water 2-3 times per week during warm weather to prevent mosquito breeding. Adding rocks to your birdbath or container can provide safe landing spots for insects collecting water.

Use organic mulches like straw or wood chips not only helps to retain moisture and suppress weeds. It also provides hiding spots for beneficial insects. Beyond mulching, you might also create nest sites for bees. You might build a bee condo or simply leave undisturbed places for ground nesters. In fall, leave fallen leaves in place and don’t cut back plants with hollow stems: both provide overwintering habitat for insects.

An insect hotel with multiple nesting cavities.

Attracting Specific Pollinators

Different pollinator species have specific preferences and requirements. By tailoring your garden to attract specific pollinators, you can maximize their diversity and abundance. Here are some tips to attract different pollinators:

Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio rutulus) Sipping Nectar from columbine flower

The Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly enjoys nectar from our native Red Columbine.

1. Bees: Provide an array of flowering plants, particularly those with open shapes and vibrant colours. Bees are especially attracted to blue, purple, white, and yellow flowers. Consider incorporating bee-friendly herbs like lavender, rosemary, and borage.

2. Butterflies: Offer a mix of nectar plants with flat, open blooms that allow easy access for butterflies. Include species like milkweed, asters, and lantanas to attract both adult butterflies and their caterpillars.

3. Hummingbirds: Plant tubular flowers in shades of red, orange, and pink, as these colours are particularly attractive to hummingbirds. Flowers such as salvia, fuchsia, and cardinal flower are known to entice these enchanting birds.

4. Other Pollinators: Create diverse habitats to accommodate less commonly recognized pollinators. For example, you can incorporate night-blooming plants to attract moths or hang bat houses to accommodate local bats.

Want help planning your pollinator garden? Stop by Figaro’s Garden—we’re always happy to help.



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