How to Build a Pollinator Garden
by Bethany Caffey, owner of The Egg Plants
Pollinators are the backbone of a healthy garden ecosystem. It is no secret that there is a big problem with habitat loss for these pollinator friends. Whether you have a few feet on your apartment balcony, front steps, or urban alley, a yard covered in turf grass, or need landscaping for several acres, you can make a huge difference! Here is a quick start guide to getting started creating your own pollinator paradise.
Planning your garden
It is best to start out by planning your pollinator garden. Please continue reading to know what you should take into consideration when getting started.
Choosing your location
Typically, when we think about butterflies and bees, we think of them going from flower to flower in the sunshine. Full sun gardens have the most options when it comes to flowering plants, but there are still great options for all sun types from full sun to full shade.
Identifying soil type and sunlight
Take a look at your soil to determine the soil type. Does it appear more sandy and well-draining, or clay-like and wet. There are a few options to help you determine this if you are unsure. You can simply dig a few small holes, about 12” deep, check out the soil mapper for your county, or submit a soil sample to the county. Identifying your soil type, and the amount of sunlight you have will be the determining factors to help plan what plants will do well in your designated garden space.
Choosing your plants
Native perennials should be the first on your list of plants to add to your garden. They have adapted to the natural environment and typically require very little intervention once established. They also tend to be a lot healthier than cultivars or annuals and come back year after year. It is essential to choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides, or neonicotinoids.
When selecting your plants, remember to focus on more than just the summer growing season. It is best to find plants that will create both a nectar food source for pollinators and an interest for the garden from spring through fall.
It is not uncommon to plant annuals and cultivars along side the native perennials. This adds interest to the garden and gives you the opportunity to change the look of the landscape each year. When selecting annuals for your pollinator garden, keep in the forefront of your mind which ones will provide a lot of nectar for butterflies and bees, and plants that provide food for caterpillars and other creatures with their foliage.
Seeds or plants
Once you have determined your plant list, you need to decide if you want to start from seeds or buy plant starts. They are both great options, and your choice will be determined by time and budget. Seeds are more economical, especially for large gardens, but require more time. Some perennials don’t flower until the third year. If you are starting from seed, most natives require a long germination time and some need cold stratification to germinate. Because of this, it is best to plant your seeds in the late fall or winter. Started plants cost more but will generally give you a quick return on your investment and bring pollinators into the yard more quickly.
Planting your garden
Before you can start planting, gather the essentials like gardening tools to break the soil as well as extra soil, compost, or mulch.
Prepping your garden
If you’re converting an existing lawn, you’ll need to remove the grass and current plant cover. The easiest way I have found to do this is to lay untreated, plain cardboard over the area. This will prevent the unwanted plants from getting sunlight and they will die under the cardboard. The dead plants will enrich the soil and invite other garden friends such a worms and woodlice to create even healthier soil, naturally, for your garden. Add a layer of soil and compost over the cardboard.
In the late fall or early winter, scatter the seeds over the garden space even if there is snow. The sun will heat up the seeds and help anchor them into the snow. The melted snow provides moisture that will help the seeds germinate.
If you’re starting with small plants, make sure you follow frost guidance to avoid putting your plants in too early. If you chose to implement to cardboard method, simply cut holes large enough for the plant and dig holes just big enough to accommodate the root system. Cover the and reinforce the roots with soil or compost. Add mulch around the base of the plant to hold in moisture and prevent weeds.
The 3 W’s …
Wait. If may take some time, regardless of if you’ve started from seed or starter plants, but you will eventually see beautiful blooms on your plants followed shortly behind by butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.
Water. It is important, at least of the first year, to ensure that your plants receive regular waterings until they are established. Native plants have the additional benefit of having really deep roots, so they are able to reach further into the ground to get water, making them heartier plants than others.
Weed. You will want to dedicate some time to weed so that you can ensure your plants are not having to compete for resources such as sun, water, or space.
I encourage you to take time each day and observe your garden. Make note of the amplitude of life your garden sustains. I always feel a great sense of pride knowing that my efforts have been rewarded by these essential creatures finding a place to call home.