As summer wanes and fall prepares to slip in the backdoor, it’s a wonderful time to evaluate our landscape. Did we see an abundance of winged wildlife in our yards this season? Would we like to increase their number and variety? How can we begin to achieve that? Learning to develop our landscapes into an oasis for butterflies and other pollinators is a worthwhile pursuit. With a little knowledge, planning and work our outdoor spaces can become beautiful sanctuaries for a multitude of pollinators.
Pollinators include hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, beetles, flies and some species of bats. They have the important role of fertilizing female plants which produce seeds, nuts or other fruit. Because 85% of flowering plants require a pollinator to move pollen, plants wouldn't survive reproductively without them. These wonder creatures are imperative to our ecosystem.
There are a few basic concepts to keep in mind while planning a habitat garden:
• An abundance of flowers in various. shapes and colors will attract a greater. variety of pollinators.
•Planting large clumps of the same type and color together will be more attractive to their eyes ... and ours as well.
•Choosing plants with different bloom times will provide sustenance for pollinators from spring through fall.
• Native plants are especially desired by pollinators. Include them as often as possible.
• Pollinators need shelter and nesting sites. Incorporate varying canopy layers in the landscape…trees, shrubs and different heights of perennials. Purposely leave some bare soil and dead wood as well as perennials and grasses standing over winter. Incorporate man-made pollinator boxes.
•Provide a shallow water source.
•Refrain from using pesticides to further protect your wildlife friends.
To plan a pollinator garden, it’s important to know the specific needs of the various organisms. Butterflies thrive on the nectar of many flowering perennials and annuals. But that isn’t enough to provide a complete habitat for them. Because of their metamorphic life cycle, a host plant is required for the larvae stage. For example, the eggs of monarchs are laid solely on milkweed leaves. So without milkweed there won’t be monarchs...
A tremendous number of butterfly species rely heavily on tree species as host plants. Black cherry trees support swallowtails, painted ladies and luna moths and black locust trees support sulphurs and skippers. Elm is the host plant for mourning cloak butterflies and willow is the host for tiger swallowtail.
A good place to start in developing a landscape where butterflies want to call home is with the addition of native plants. Some of the most valuable ornamental native perennial plants for supporting butterflies and moths are: goldenrods, asters, sunflowers, pyeweeds, morning glories, sedges, honeysuckles, lupines, violets, geraniums and coneflowers. Supporting woody native plants are: oaks, cherries, willows, birches, poplars, crabapples, blueberries, maples, elms and pines. (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home, 2009).
Other powerhouse plants that support various pollinators are tickseed, mountain mint, mistflower, blazing star, beardtongue, phlox and bergamot. There is truly an inexhaustible list of herbs and flowers that can be added to these lists. Pollinators will flutter to the locations where the buffet is large and varied.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is always a delight to see in the garden. We can attract these pollinating jewels by adding a few of their favorite plants to our landscapes: wild columbine, oxeye sunflower, coral bells, jewelweed, Virginia blue bells, wild bergamot, beebalm, sundrops, yellow poplar, trumpetvine, coral honeysuckle and Carolina jasmine. The tiny hummingbird has a supercharged metabolism and must eat once every 10-15 minutes and visit 1000 – 2000 flowers daily! Hummingbird feeders are helpful to provide nectar critical to their survival, especially during spring and fall migration.
There’s much to learn and do in the journey of making our landscapes “pollinator friendly.” Fall is a great time for planting trees, shrubs and some perennials. Choosing to add a few pollinator favorites can start the transformation and the eventual rewards. As we help nature to function effectively we will reap the benefits of the tiny workers in our gardens...while enjoying the visual beauty of a vast array of diverse plants and wildlife… in our own backyards.