A garden brimming with color, texture, and blooms is beautiful on its own. But when its brimming with fluttering pollinators its absolutely magical! And with growing awareness as to the importance of birds, bees, and butterflies as pollinators there is now also growing interest on how to garden to support our flying friends. To help our fellow San Antonio and Texas gardeners I’ve whipped up a quick post here on attracting pollinators and provided a free downloadable guide with details specifically on how to support each group with native and adapted plants for South Central Texas, including a bonus on milkweed with varieties and where to find seeds so you can grow your own next season!
Attracting Pollinators – The Basics
When attracting any kind of wildlife to your garden, including pollinators, it’s important to remember the habitat triad – food, shelter, water.
To attract birds, bees, and butterflies to your garden you need to make sure your garden is a well stocked pantry. Different pollinators have different tastes, yet there are many plants that support multiple pollinators. And truly, a garden is one of those few instances where if you build it they will come. That’s because a diverse and richly planted garden scape is a beacon (especially in urban jungles) to our favorite species including hummingbirds, song birds, butterflies, and an assortment of bees and other buzzing beneficial insects.
Diversity is truly the key when it comes to planting to provide food for pollinators. Each of the 3 key groups feed on slightly different items. Birds for the most part feed on seeds, fruit, insects, and nectar. Butterflies feed mostly on nectar, while their baby caterpillars munch on tender perennials such as milkweed. Bees feast on nectar and pollen, but due to the fact that they can only see along the blue spectrum, they tend toward flowers that are blue, white, purple and other variations and not so much on the red flowers favored by hummingbirds. As a result, pollinators don’t compete for food sources, and they help to maintain a balanced eco system, including keeping unwanted pest populations down.
Pollinators need protection from the elements and from predators and other threats, such as pesticides. Contiguous plantings help to create safe harbors for pollinators, as to species specific nesting boxes, gourd houses, and insect hotels. Many insects make their home in leaf litter and wood debris like mulch, so its best to leave (pun intended) as much leaf litter as possible. Fireflies and many bees make their homes in leaf litter and mulch. You can keep the debris and maintain a clean turf area by keeping it contained in perennial flower beds or in key areas of your yard.
The free download has complete plant lists for each pollinator group, including host and nectar plants for a number of butterfly species, but for the most part planting flowers in a wide array of colors and shrubs and trees that produce fruit will naturally draw a wide range of pollinators to your garden. While waiting for plants to establish and during droughts and winter conditions, you can provide pollinators with supplemental food through seed feeders, suet feeders, nectar dispensers, and others. The downloadable guide includes recipes for suet cakes and for hummingbird nectar.
Water is life for animals, and they will flock to it especially during times of drought. Running water is best. Not only are pollinators attracted to the sound of running water, circulation also helps to keep down mosquito populations, algae, and other bacteria. There is no need to invest in an expensive fountain or waterfall. There are many inexpensive mechanical agitators available online that can mimic the rippling effect of running water.
Also, shallow water sources are best, and bird baths and other basins should have curved, gradually sloped cadges instead of sharp or perpendicular edges. This way little birdies can easily get in and out of the water without risk of drowning. Hummingbirds especially need shallow water sources, usually only about an inch deep. Be sure to change our water often to keep it clean and fresh and avoid using harsh chemicals when disinfecting the basin.
This post just skims the surface of what is available in the download. In total it’s 7 pages of tips, resources, and plant lists for attracting pollinators. Its totally free, we don’t even ask for your email you just download and use it! We just ask that you plant beautiful pollinator gardens, and if you’re in the San Antonio area and need help give us a call!