Most pollinators – approximately 200,000 species – are beneficial insects such as bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and butterflies. A small percentage of pollinators are vertebrates such as hummingbirds. Honey bees and native bees (bumble bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, mining bees, mason bees, etc.) are critical to our food supply and are responsible for pollinating about one-third of the foods we enjoy.
Bees and other pollinators are also essential components of the habitats and ecosystems that many wild animals rely on for food and shelter. As natural areas are cleared for development, pollinator habitat is destroyed or fragmented, resulting in the loss of foraging and nesting sites. This can lead to a decline in pollinator populations.
One big way you can help pollinators is by planting forage habitat that provides nectar and pollen. Your main goal is to have plants flowering throughout the growing season, from early spring-late fall, with overlapping bloom periods.
Choose flowers with a diversity of bloom color, size, and shape to attract the greatest diversity of pollinators. Some pollinators have short tongues and can only feed from small, open flowers with easily accessible nectar. Other pollinators have long tongues and prefer more complex blooms. Emphasize native plants to provide the most benefits to the greatest number of pollinators.
Some examples of native plants that will make your pollinators very happy from spring to fall: wild indigo, spiderwort, and beard tongue (spring); butterfly weed, mountain mint, Joe-pye weed, coneflower, anise hyssop, blanketflower, and St. John’s wort (summer); goldenrod, aster, spotted horsemint, and obedient plant (fall). Herbs such as lavender, thyme, oregano, calamint, basil, catmint, and rosemary also provide great resources for bees.
Looking to find plants suited to your region? Check out the Pollinator Partnership planting guides.
Learn and Explore at Pollinator Paradise Garden
Want to learn more? You can visit North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Pollinator Paradise Garden at Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, NC.
This public demonstration garden includes over 140 different plants, 85% which are native to the piedmont of North Carolina. For those of you outside North Carolina, the garden has its own website that includes a plant list, photos of what’s blooming every week, and much more. If you are not able to visit the garden in person, you can take a virtual tour here or shown below by viewing the slide show featuring 100 photos from the garden throughout the seasons!
Free garden tours are conducted every month, and the schedule is on the website. Just go to www.protectpollinators.org and click on the Pollinator Paradise Garden link.
I hope that you will consider creating some habitat that both you and our pollinators will enjoy for many seasons to come!
Agricultural Extension Agent with the Chatham County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.