Written by Kim Smerek

When we think of pollinators, we tend to think of bees and butterflies, buzzing and flitting away amongst the flowers in our gardens. It may be hard to think of flies, moths and beetles as pollinators, but they are actually one of the most diverse groups of pollinators we have! With steadily growing urban areas, large expanses of industrialized farmland, and accompanying loss of wildlife habitat, it is more important than ever to provide all of our pollinators with a habitat suitable for their survival.   

Here is some advice on how to attract more pollinators to your garden: 

1. Don’t use pesticides. Most pesticides are not selective. You are killing off the beneficial bugs along with the pests. If you must use a pesticide, start with the least toxic one and follow the label instructions to the letter.  

2. Use local native plants. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native pollinators than exotic flowers. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging, like mint, oregano, garlic, chives, parsley and lavender. (Keep in mind that a garden full of non-natives, changes the ecosystem of the area, and many animals and insects will not use foreign plants for food or shelter.)  

3. Choose several colours of flowers. Bees have good colour vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colours that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow. Butterflies love pretty much every colour, but they are least attracted to flowers that are Blue to green. And of course, hummingbirds love the colour red (which bees cannot see!)  

4. Plant flowers in clumps. Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter. Flowers are especially effective when planted in a grouping since their masses of large flower clusters are easier for pollinators to see.  

TIP- Deadheading, or pinching off spent flower blooms, encourages flowering plants to produce new blooms, which will attract more pollinators. 

5. Include flowers of different shapes. There are four thousand different species of bees in North America, and they are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers. Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more pollinators can benefit.  

6. Have a diversity of plants flowering all season. Most bee species and other pollinators feed on a range of plants through their life cycle. By having several plant species flowering at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of pollinators that fly (or crawl) at different times of the season. 

7. Plant where pollinators will visit. Bees and butterflies favour sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds. They also need a water source, for hydration and to keep cool, so a shallow dish, or a birdbath with pebbles for them to land on work well.  

8. Provide shelter. Introduce butterflies and moths to the garden as caterpillars and larvae. They need a sunny location and a host plant. Butterfly host plants are the plants that butterflies lay their eggs on or near so that their larvae can eat the plant before forming its chrysalis. Expect these plants to be sacrificial plants and allow the caterpillars to feast. Then you're guaranteed butterflies in your garden! Don't forget a water source!  

What to plant?
Here's a list of some great native pollinator plants you can find in Harper's Nursery:

Red Cedar – Juniperus virginiana - tree 

Red Osier Dogwood – cornus serica - tree 

Willow – Salix - tree/shrub 

Sandcherry – Prunus pumilla – tree/shrub

Nannyberry Vibernum – Vibernum lentago – tree/shrub

Blueberry – Vaccinium – shrub 

Solomon's Seal – Polygonatum - perennial 

Blazing Star – Liatris - perennial 

Black-Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia - perennial 

Coneflower – Echinacea- perennial 

Butterfly Weed – Asclepias - perennial  

Joe-Pye Weed - Eupatorium maculatum - perennial