How to Start a Pollinator Garden

Every organism on earth is essential, playing its part, filling its role, and providing an essential function in the ecosystem. The delicate balance and interwoven relationships of life on Earth are magnificent. However, one particular group of organisms is more important than any other: the insects. We often take insects for granted, but they are a vital component of the ecosystem, and without them, we simply cannot survive. Insects provide for the pollination of most plants on earth. They are ultimately responsible for the food we consume.

Most pollination is carried out by native pollinators, which include flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. And native bees are the most important pollinators in the ecosystem! Native solitary bees are two to three times more effective at pollinating than the European Honeybee. Honeybees are not native and do not play as significant a role in pollination. 

Insect populations are experiencing a significant and sharp decline. Roughly 40% of bees face extinction, and almost 1/3 of our butterflies are threatened with extinction, which does not bode well for us! Several factors are contributing to their decline. Chief among them are pesticide use and habitat loss. This article is to help guide you through a few steps to creating a pollinator garden and how we can positively impact the insect population. Let’s offer vital nectar and pollen sources for native pollinators and make a difference.

6-steps for creating a perfect Pollinator Habitat

 Step 1: Location

Choose a site mostly in the sun and offers some wind protection. Pollinators enjoy sunning themselves but do not tend to stay long if it’s too windy.  

Step 2: Habitat Essentials

A healthy habitat provides more than just food. It also provides water and shelter. 

Provide a water source for pollinators. A shallow dish filled with small rocks is perfect. Then just keep it filled with clean, fresh water. 

Many native bees are cavity nesters and make their homes in dead wood or brush. Find an aesthetically pleasing log and place it in your space.  

Caution: Butterfly houses or boxes should be avoided. There is no evidence that butterflies use them and they attract invasive paper wasps. 

Step 3: Diversity

Provide a variety of plants that have blooms of different colors and flowers of differing shapes to attract a variety of pollinators. Choose species with different blooming periods to have a steady supply of flowers throughout the season. 

Native trees and shrubs are incredibly valuable to our pollinators. Many trees bloom early in the spring and provide flowers when not much else is in bloom yet. Maples, serviceberry and redbud are great early bloomers. Trees are also one of the most valuable host plants. Host plants are the plants that larva munch on. Cool fact: Oak species support the caterpillars of over 500 species of moths and butterflies.  

Step 4: Fall Cleanup – DON’T DO IT

Avoid removing the dead and dying material in the fall. Many insects overwinter in the plant debris, dead material, and hollow stems. Wait until spring and temperatures are consistently above 50°F. If you absolutely cannot wait, at least cut the material and move it to another spot in the yard until you have given the pollinators a chance to emerge from overwintering. 

Step 5: Avoid Pesticides

An important and essential tip to protect pollinators is to avoid using pesticides in your yard!

  • Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.
  • Learn to accept that insect holes in your plants are a sign of a healthy, thriving ecosystem you are helping create.
  • Use mechanical methods to remove unwanted pests like weeds.
  • The most widely used residential mosquito sprays are highly toxic to a wide variety of insects and don’t just single out mosquitoes. Side note: did you know mosquitos are also pollinators?

Step 6: Go Native

Finally – choose native plants for your pollinator garden. Native plants require less maintenance, are perfectly adapted to our climate and support pollinators. Our native pollinators evolved alongside native plants, and they work perfectly together. Native plants also provide greater nutritional value for the pollinators.

Fill your yard with native flowering plants, vines, shrubs and trees. Here at Wason Nursery we have a large selection of native plants to choose from. Here are a few of my favorite native perennials for pollinators:


Botanical Name: Aquilegia canadensis

                  Bloom time: April –May

                  Bloom Color: Pink/Yellow

                  Notes: early bloomer, attracts hummingbirds, deer resistant 

Butterfly Milkweed

Botanical Name: Asclepias tuberosa

                  Bloom time: June – August

                  Bloom Color: Orange

                  Notes: host for Monarch caterpillar

Swamp Milkweed

Botanical Name: Asclepias incarnata

                  Bloom time: June – August

                  Bloom Color: Pink

                  Notes: fragrant flower, host for Monarch caterpillar, deer resistant

Blue False Indigo

Botanical Name: Baptista australis

                  Bloom time: May - June

                  Bloom Color: Blue

                  Notes: unique and attractive seed pod, shrublike structure at maturity

Purple Coneflower

Botanical Name: Echinacea purpurea

Bloom time: June-August

                  Bloom Color: Purple

                  Note: daisy-like flower shape, deer resistant 

Cardinal Flower

Botanical Name: Lobelia cardinalis

Bloom time: July - September

                  Bloom Color: Red

Note: deer and rabbit resistant

Trumpet Honeysuckle

Botanical Name: Lonicera sempervirens

Bloom time: May - June

                  Bloom Color: Scarlet/Orange

                  Notes: vine that requires a structure or support, tubular-shaped flower

Foxglove Beardtongue

Botanical Name: Penstemon digitalis

Bloom time: May - July

                  Bloom Color: White

Notes: tubular shaped flower

Black-Eyed Susan

Botanical Name: Rudbeckia fulgida

Bloom time: August - September

                  Bloom Color: Yellow

                  Note: daisy-like flower shape, deer resistant

New England Aster

Botanical Name: Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Bloom time: August - October

                  Bloom Color: Violet

                  Note: late bloomer, host plant to several moth species

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