Planting a pollinator garden is undoubtedly the best thing the average homeowner can do to help bees. But what is a pollinator garden, how do you make one, and how does it work? If you’re feeling mystified by talk of native plants and toxic pesticides, read on to learn just how easy it can be to make a natural refuge in your own backyard.

What is a Pollinator Garden? At its simplest, a pollinator garden is a garden planted to attract, feed, and provide shelter to pollinating insects and birds. Unlike other gardens, pollinator gardens tend to appear more wild. They feature flowering plants in different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they welcome native plants that some may view as weeds.

Pollinator gardens don’t use pesticides, herbicides, or even common fertilizers to facilitate their growth. Since these substances can be harmful to the very creatures these gardens seek to attract, gardeners forgo chemical intervention, instead opting for low-maintenance native plants that naturally thrive in their region. What plants are considered “native” depends on location, but homeowners can turn to locally-owned nurseries and online tools to find the right plants for their area.

While pollinator gardens come in many shapes and sizes — you can even create an urban garden — the best ones incorporate nectar-rich flowering plants with sources of shelter and water. If they’re going to stick around, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators need a comfortable place to call home.Close up of bee pollinating large sunflower in Colorado

Why are Pollinator Gardens Important?  Pollinator habitats are rapidly diminishing as open land is transformed into developed spaces with buildings and pavement. When there aren’t enough flowers for bees to forage, bee populations decrease. This habitat loss, along with threats from insecticides, parasites, and disease, is part of what’s causing colony collapse disorder. This destructive disorder has contributed to a more than 40 percent drop in U.S. honey bee populations since the mid-20th century — a drop that threatens crop diversity and the billion dollar American bee industry.

How Can I Create a Pollinator Garden? A pollinator garden is one of the easiest gardens to create, since it uses plants that already grow well in your area. However, it will take a little work to turn your lawn into a natural haven.

1. Pick an Area to Go Wild - find a sunny area in your yard to transform into native habitat. The more space, the better, but a pollinator garden can be as small as a balcony container garden.

2. Choose Your Plants - start selecting native plants for your garden. You can directly sow seeds or purchase plants from a nursery. Choose seeds and plants grown using organic practices. The best pollinator gardens include plants in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Include plants that bloom in each season so pollinators can find food in spring, summer, and fall.

3. Amend as Needed - if your garden soil is compacted, very sandy, or made of heavy clay, you may want to amend it before planting. Purchase compost and mix it through the top layer of your garden soil, but avoid going too deep. Life in the soil will bring health to your garden.

4. Incorporate Water and Shelter - pollinators need water and shelter as well as food. Your garden’s water source can be as simple as a shallow dish or as complex as a cascading fountain. Likewise, shelter can be provided with dead branches and a bare patch of ground or with constructed bee boxes and hives.

5. Plant, Water, and Wait - once the garden is prepared, you’re ready to put plants in the ground. After that, it’s mostly hands-off. You’ll need to water regularly while plants are young, but once they’re established, native plants should be able to survive on rainfall. Rather than pull weeds or use herbicides, let native weeds and grasses become part of the landscape. As flowers bloom and die, they’ll drop their seeds back into the earth, providing you with a lush habitat year after year.

At SavingOurBees, we’re committed to collecting and distributing the most accurate and up-to-date resources on the bee crisis and information on how to help in your own community. Let’s come together, be impactful, and save our bees! Image credit: Pixabay.

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