What is a pollinator?
Any insect or animal which moves pollen from one flower to the next. This includes bats, bees, butterflies, small mammals, moths, birds, flies, and beetles. Flowers are designed to attract pollinators with their bright colors and enticing fragrance, and in return the pollinators feed on the flowers nectar and pollen.
Pollinators are essential to the survival of many species of plants and animals, including people. Approximately one-third of the food we eat is delivered by pollinators. Recently, populations of many of our favorite pollinators are in decline, partially due to loss of habitat and food.
In honor of National Pollinator Week, here are a few things you can do to make your garden a welcoming environment for all types of pollinators.
- Plant many different flowers that bloom all year long
Because there's such a diverse mix of creatures which pollinate flowers, the best way to make your garden a welcoming place is to plant a wide variety of flowers,that bloom all throughout the year. Different species are attracted to different flower types, and having a wide selection of flowers which bloom during each season will ensure that they don't go hungry.
Different types of pollinators are more attracted to different colors. It is easier to draw passing pollinators into your garden if you plant your pollinator-attracting perennials in a patch of 3-5, and plant big groups of similar colors together.
Bees are drawn to yellow, blue and purple.
Fun fact: bees see in a spectrum of light that's invisible to us- ultraviolet. Many flowers have ultraviolet markings on them called "nectar guides" which draw bees directly to the pollen and nectar of a flower.
Butterflies prefer flat-topped "cluster" type flowers in red, orange, yellow, pink and blue.
Hummingbirds enjoy tube or funnel shaped flowers in shades of orange, red, violet and pink.
Scent is another thing that draws pollinators to flowers, so seek fragrant flowers when planning your pollinator garden. Herbs like lavender, sage, basil and oregano contain many fragrant oils, so their flowers contain nectar which is especially delicious.
When planning your pollinator paradise, consider catering to the local species. There are approximately 1,500 species of bees and 200 species of butterflies that are native to California. Native pollinators are most attracted to the plants with which they co-evolved. Native plants are also well adapted to our climate, making them a sustainable choice, which will be easier to maintain in the long run.
- Provide a place to nest and rest
Many species of bees are solitary, meaning they overwinter and nest in soil, sand or dead wood as opposed to hives. Large screening shrubs make a great shelter for all sorts of pollinators, and some of them, such as wild lilac and toyon are good sources of pollen and nectar too.
- Set up a bath for birds, bees and other pollinators
Keeping a birdbath is a great way to attract an assortment of beautiful songbirds to your garden, and it's especially appreciated in low-water years. However, you should also find a spot in your pollinator garden for a bee & butterfly bath! Take a shallow tray, line with pebbles, and keep it filled with fresh water. This provides water for smaller pollinators, especially butterflies who get many of their essential minerals from drinking muddy water (an act known as puddling).
- Learn to control pests naturally
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a way of controlling pests in your garden with less impact on the environment. Many pollinators also feed on insects such as aphids, that's why maintaining the balance of beneficials and pests in the garden is important.