planting for pollinators with purple coneflower

Planting for Pollinators

Bees and other pollinators are an important part of our world today.  Without pollinators, our food sources, as well as the food sources for many other animal species, would look very different.  With the decline in pollinator population, it’s imperative that we all step up to help make a change.  And, whether you have a single container, landscape, flower garden, or acres of land – we can all make a difference.  Here are some simple ways to help pollinators.

 

What is pollination?

Pollination occurs when an animal moves pollen from the anthers (male structures that produce pollen) to the stigma (the female structure where the pollen germinates) on the same species of plant.

bee on sedum flower

Why is pollination important?

While the pollinating animal is helping the plant produce the seeds and fruit necessary for the plant’s survival, the animal, in return, receives sustenance in the form of pollen, nectar, or fruit that is also needed for their survival.  Add us humans into the mix, and we benefit as well from the food produced by both the plants and some of the pollinators.

honeycomb produced by honeybees

While some plants are wind-pollinated, many plants require the assistance of pollinators for pollination to occur.  They are necessary for 3/4 of our major food crops.

Do you enjoy splurging on a piece of chocolate?  You can thank a tiny fly that is, aptly named, the Chocolate Midge.

chocolate midge a fly responsible for the pollination of cacao
Chocolate Midge. Photo Courtesy Brian V. Brown/Encyclopedia of Life via National Park Service

What are pollinators?

While the honey bee may be the poster child of pollinators, there are actually over 200,000 animals that act as pollinators.  Beetles, wasps, ants, and butterflies are just some of the insects.  Hummingbirds, bats, and other small mammals make up approximately 1,000 of those pollinators.  And, while the honey bee may be native to Europe, the U.S. has over 3600 species of native bees that assist in pollination.

With around 75% of all plant species and 90% of all flowering plants relying on animals to pollinate, it’s a pretty big job that requires A LOT of pollinators!

red, white, and black butterfly on pink tropical flower

That piece of chocolate?  You’re able to enjoy it because of a fly.  The ONLY animal or insect that pollinates the Cacao plant.  It’s humbling to think that some of the most pleasurable food we eat and extravagancies we enjoy are available to us only because of a small creature that we often consider pesky.

chocolate popsicles

What can I do to help pollinators?

Like humans, pollinators require the 3 most basic needs for survival:  Food, Water, and Shelter.  Here’s what you can do to help pollinators.

  • Create more green spaces.
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use.
  • Replace lawn with flower beds.
  • Plant herbs.
  • Leave clover and dandelions in your yard – It’s a great food source, and dandelions are often one of the first food sources available.
  • Create habitat for pollinators to live.
  • Provide water.
  • Learn to accept plant damage – A number of pollinators also use specific plant leaves as a food source.  Don’t stress over every bit of leaf damage in your garden!
monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed

What can I plant for pollinators?

When you begin your pollinator garden, whether you choose to plant herbs, perennials, shrubs, or trees, be sure to plant so you have flowers from early spring to fall.  Pollinators tend to be more attracted to groups of plants, so avoid single plants unless your garden is small.  Plant native plants when available or choose cultivars of native plants.  Avoid heavily modified blooms like the double flowering blooms of Coneflower.  They may be beautiful, but they’re bred with you in mind, not pollinators.

double flowering pink coneflower
'Pink Double Delight' Echinacea. Photo Courtesy Plants Nouveau

Here’s a list of commonly found perennials that are great for pollinator gardens!

common perennials for pollinators in the st. louis and surrounding region

Different pollinators are attracted to different types of plants.  But, with so many plants to choose from, if you grow many types of flowering plants, you are guaranteed to bring pollinators into your garden.  At the end of the day, every flower counts.