The Nectar Garden: The Importance of Planting a Haven for Pollinators
by David Salman
To say pollination is an important process would be an understatement. A large number of the Earth’s edible plants create their fruit and seeds with the help of pollinators moving pollen from plant to plant. And we humans, along with the rest of the world’s animals, depend on this essential food cycle for our survival.
Pollinators (such as native bees, bumblebees, honey bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds) need flowers for pollen and nectar. And the flowers need them, to help accomplish the pollination process that sets the seeds and fruits so the plants can propagate themselves. A healthy pollinator population means the area of the Earth on which they live is also healthy. Pollinators are the pulse of the planet.
As gardeners, we are involved in the pollination process even if we don’t think about it. And that’s because we love planting flowers! So when we plant an abundant garden or landscape and care for these plants in an organic environment, it provides for us humans too. This helps to complete the web of life.
To plan and plant a nectar garden for pollinators, we need to provide three basic elements:
- Shelter – buildings and gardens provide places where insects and hummingbirds can live
- Water – a source of water is essential.
- Food Source – the plants that feed themselves and their young.
The fun part for gardeners is, of course, planting the plants that provide for the pollinators. We do this with two groups of plants; the food plants for caterpillars (moths and butterflies) and nectar sources for adult moths and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Herbs – provide an excellent source of leaves for caterpillars. Always plant extra so there is enough for you and the caterpillars. And don’t forget Milkweed (Asclepias) for Monarch caterpillars.
Flowering perennials, shrubs and trees - provide nectar-rich flowers for adult moths and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
I am an enthusiastic hummingbird gardener, so I’m always planting flowering plants to attract them.
Some of my favorite hummingbird plants in this category include:
- Beardtongue (Penstemon) – a large diverse group of wildflowers especially for western gardens
- Columbine (Aquilegia) – the best wildflowers to attract hummingbirds to your shady gardens!
- Beebalm (Mondarda) – dazzling flowers in shades of pink and red
- Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) – beautiful flowers and aromatic oils in flowers and foliage
- Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) – wonderful orange flowers
- Sage (Salvia) - this includes our many native species and hybrids
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) - especially in the Mid-West and Eastern US
Hot Lips Littleleaf Sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') is a long-blooming Sage that blooms all summer with eye-catching red and white bicolor flowers. The nectar-rich flowers attra...Learn More
Superb Beardtongue (Penstemon superbus) is an early season spring bloomer with stunning coral-orange flowers and evergreen grey-green foliage. Best grown in the mild winter areas of ...Learn More
Some of my favorite plants for butterflies, moths and all kinds of bees, I recommend:
- Ornamental Onions (Allium) – bees!!! Fall-planted bulbs are some of the best for bees.
- Beebalm (Monarda) - butterflies
- Yarrow (Achillea) - butterflies
- Lavender (Lavandula) – bees and butterflies
- Oregano (Origanum) - bees and butterflies
- Catmints (Nepeta) - bees and butterflies
- European Sage (Salvia) – Salvia nemerosa and superb varieties
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) – especially attractive to bumblebees
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera) - especially attractive to hawkmoth
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