Here are a number of tips to help your pollinator garden be more successful. Pollinators include hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, bees, wasps, ants, beetles, and other insects.
- Use native plants
They are adapted to the local climate and soils, and local pollinators and other insects are adapted to them. They are generally hardier than cultivars or non-native plants, and require less maintenance.
- Avoid invasive, non-native plants.
For a list of Virginia invasive plants, go to https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/invsppdflist. Native plants can sometimes be aggressive, but are not invasive. Do research on your native plants to make sure they will not overtake small garden areas.
- Replace some of your lawn with native pollinator plants.
Lawns are often considered wildlife “deserts”, as they lack plants that can support pollinators and other native wildlife.
- Plant a variety of flowers for the entire growing season.
Provide plants that will blossom from early spring thru fall frost, as insects and pollinators particularly need high quality food sources when they come out of or prepare to go into hibernation – or when they are migrating.
- Plant a variety of flower shapes and colors.
Different pollinators are attracted to different types of flowers.
- Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with doubled flowers.
Pollen, nectar and scent can be lost during the hybridization process. Stick with native species, or native cultivars that have been proven to be beneficial for pollinators.
- Include host plants for caterpillars.
Most caterpillars only have a small variety of host plants that they are able to eat, due to the various natural chemicals in the plants. You will usually not notice any damage to the plant until at least 10% of the leaves have been chewed on.
- Help pollinators find their plants by planting in groups.
Put each type of plant in groups of three, five, or more instead of singly. Plant flowers as if they are in a meadow setting instead of rows. Groups of similar plants also shortens the distances that the pollinators need to travel to feed, and they will often remain in your garden for longer periods of time.
- Do not use pesticides in your yard and garden, and avoid buying plants that have been treated with pesticides.
This may kill the pollinators or their offspring. Avoid herbicides too.
- Provide a source for butterflies, moths, and other insects to “puddle” and obtain the minerals they need.
Set a shallow bird bath on the ground, fill it with soil or sand, sprinkle it with sea salt, and keep it moist. This provides a source of water and minerals for pollinators.
- Plant the right plant in the right place.
Do not plant sun loving plants in the shade, or shade loving plants in the sun. They will not do well, and may become sick and/or die. Plant drought resistant plants in dry areas of your garden, or moisture loving plants in wet areas of your garden. Do your research before you obtain your native plants.
- Choose a sunny spot that is safe from wind.
For the best pollinator garden, your site should receive at least six hours of sun per day to help insects stay active. Plants often produce more nectar with increased sun exposure. Make sure the spot is protected from strong winds, which can make it hard for pollinators to fly between flowers.
- Design your garden keeping your plants final size in mind.
Makesure the taller plants don’t shade out their neighbors. Planting densely locks in moisture and reduces weeds – though plants susceptible to mildew often do better with more space and improved ventilation. Native vines climbing up trellises or walls are another good option.
- If you have deer, consider planting resistant plants.
Visit https://njaes.rutgers.edu/deer-resistant-plants/ for a list – just be aware that if deer are hungry enough, they can eat almost any plant.
- Leave small brush piles for beneficial insects to use as shelter and nesting sites.
- Provide potential bee nesting sites.
Build a bee condo, or leave dead branches or trunks on the ground. Provide bare spots on the soil surface for ground nesting native bees.
- Do not clean up your gardens at the end of the growing season.
Instead, let your garden plant stems remain upright, and allow leaves to remain on the ground so that beneficial insects, hibernating bees, and butterfly caterpillars and cocoons have a place to hide during the winter. If any of your plants are badly diseased, then bag up the plant remains and place them in the garbage. Cut back plants in early spring when temps are consistently above 50 degrees. This gives hibernating insects time to come out of hiding as the weather warms up.
- Visit your local native plant nurseries.
They are experienced with your local native plants, and can give you advice. Visit https://vnps.org/native-plant-nursery-list/ for a directory.
- Contact a local chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society
or visit their website at https://vnps.org to get more ideas