Paradise for pollinators

Rob Zimmer
Now Media Group

On a warm spring morning, the first fresh wildflowers of the season burst into glorious bloom and the pollinators of spring are busy gathering the season's first sweet pollen.

Violets, trilliums, trout lilies, dandelions (yes, dandelions) and many other colorful spring blooms provide a feast for the season's first flight.

We have all been bombarded with information regarding severe declines in pollinator numbers, including bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other wild creatures. The news is often frightening in scope.

Often, it is difficult to straddle the line between propaganda and fact, however, there are many things we as property owners and gardeners can do to help these valuable insects and birds.

Even the smallest container or garden plot dedicated to butterflies and bees provides a valuable resource throughout the season for these helpful creatures.

While the thoughts of many gardeners gravitate toward honeybees, the fact is, it is our native pollinators that are equally in need of our protection. Honeybees are not native to North America, a surprise to many.

Native pollinators, including many species of butterflies, bees, as well as birds, serve as important pollinators throughout the seasons.

Providing plants and garden elements to attract and provide them with their basic needs of food, water and security, your property becomes an important part of a living corridor of blooms to support and maintain pollinator numbers locally.

Pollinator all-stars

Fortunately, growing your own pollinator garden, however small or large, is relatively simple.

There are a number of exceptional plants available to attract and sustain pollinators throughout the seasons.

This includes annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and flowering bulbs.

Many of these plants, especially native varieties, are exceptionally adaptable, meaning they will grow equally well in versatile habitats.

Whether your property is mainly sunny, shade, sand, clay, wet or dry, it's possible to create a beautiful and beneficial pollinator garden right at home.

For attracting the largest number of pollinators to your property, native plants and wildflowers are the key.

Native plants are those that are indigenous to our area, meaning they were present here before the first settlers arrived from Europe. Native wildflowers provide the most beneficial source of nectar and pollen for birds, butterflies and bees.

Some of my favorite native wildflowers include the many varieties of milkweed, Joe-pye weed, asters, cardinal flower, wild bergamot or bee balm, purple coneflower, wild lupine, penstemons, goldenrods and the many varieties of liatris.

Plants especially suited for wetter areas include Joe-pye weed, swamp milkweed, golden Alexanders, blue flag iris, cardinal flower, blue lobelia, asters, sneezeweed, and gentians.

Late-season bounty

While it's easy for just about anyone to quickly establish a spring and summer blooming pollinator garden, extending the season into fall is a bit more of a challenge.

However, fall blooming wildflowers and annuals are just as important as summer beauties.

This is because many of our most beloved pollinators are on the move during September and October. Hummingbirds and monarchs, especially, migrate south heavily after Labor Day.

Many gardeners quickly clean up their gardens after the Labor Day holiday, leaving nothing for these traveling beauties to feast upon.

Plants to search for and plant during spring for fall bloom include New England aster, Joe-pye weed, black-eyed Susan, ironweed, as well as annuals such as zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, dahlias and others.

The many different salvias and sages also provide a beneficial source of late-season nectar for migrating hummingbirds.


What's new in gardening for 2016? Rob Zimmer will have an in-depth look at the hottest new plants, trends and ways to grow them.