This past harsh winter was difficult for Ontario’s bee population. We need the bees to pollinate our plants, along with butterflies, many insects (like dragonflies) and specific bird species. Pollinators result in the production of seeds, essential for plants – trees, flowers, and vegetables.
If you have a balcony, a patio, or backyard, even a single window box, you can do your part to encourage our pollinators.
Plant Host Plants
Pollinators need host plants to lay their eggs. For example, Monarch butterflies only use native milkweed. Once the larvae hatch, they feed on the milkweed and then move on to other food sources in your garden.
There are many host plants, including asters, nasturtiums, mallow, black-eyed susan, hollyhock and many herbs.
Create a habitat
Even if you have a small space, set up an area where pollinators can live. Garden retailers offer a wide selection of habitats for beneficial insects (kind of like “insect hotels”), e.g. the popular and inexpensive Mason bee house makes an attractive and interesting addition to any garden.
Water is essential. A container of fresh water in a sheltered spot turns your yard into a welcoming waterhole for visiting butterflies, bees, dragonflies, birds, and many other insects.
Line a shallow container with small pebbles or marbles so small pollinators can drink and bath without drowning. Water for butterflies should be provided in the form of a puddle in a sunny area, preferably near the butterfly garden.
Be a little messy
Put away that leaf blower! A fallen branch or log pile is a perfect habitat for bees and insects. Bees and certain butterflies love weeds like dandelions. Butterflies hide in old leaves and peeling bark. Twigs and brush are perfect perches to small, delicate pollinators.
Keep it natural
Eliminate insecticides from your butterfly garden. Learn to tolerate some chewing and damage to plants. Some of that is caused by caterpillars—the butterfly larvae that turn into butterflies!
Expand your options
Choose plants that produce a lot of sweet nectar flowers.
- Annuals provide nectar all summer. Easy to grow varieties include: sunflowers, zinnias, sweet alyssum and cosmos.
- Perennial flowers provide nectar during certain periods when they are in bloom, so select a variety. Try cardinal flower, coral bells, many hosta varieties, echinacea, rudbeckia, black-eyed susan, asters and monarda (bee balm).
The simplest things that attract pollinators:
- Hummingbirds love tubular shaped flowers: lavatera, hollyhocks, day lilies, cardinal flowers (a favourite!), fuchsia, monarda, morning glory and petunias
- Bees are most attracted to white, yellow, blue and purple flowers
- Butterflies are nearsighted, so plant in groups or masses so they don’t miss out!
- Generally speaking, flat flowers, like those in the daisy family, are easy for butterflies to land on and tubular flowers seem to be preferred by hummers