Gardening for Pollinators

Series of pollinator and flower images.

Follow these simple steps to create a pollinator-friendly landscape around your home or workplace.

A collage of bees and butterflies on flowers.
Photo by Beatriz Moisset, 2006-2006.

Picture of a garden along a shoreline.
A butterfly garden. Photo by Janet Mukai.

Monarch larva on milkweed.
Monarch larva on milkweed. Photo by Rachel Powless.

The end of a post block with holes drilled in it to make a bee box.
Build a bee box.

Hummingbird nectaring on a purple flower.
Hummingbird. Photo by Bill May.

American copper butterfly on a white flower.
American copper, Lycaena phloeas. Photo by Beatriz Moisset.

  • Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall.
    Help pollinators find and use them by planting in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators. Do not forget that night-blooming flowers will support moths and bats.
  • Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with "doubled" flowers.
    Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the "perfect" blooms for us.
  • Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.
    If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Use the product properly. Spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.
  • Include larval host plants in your landscape.
    If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated. Accept that some host plants are less than ornamental if not outright weeds. A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include. Plant a butterfly garden!
  • Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees.
    Use a dripping hose, drip irrigation line, or place your bird bath on bare soil to create a damp area. Mix a small bit of table salt (sea salt is better!) or wood ashes into the mud.
  • Spare that limb!
    By leaving dead trees, or at least an occasional dead limb, you provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure these are not a safety hazard for people walking below. You can also build a bee condo by drilling holes of varying diameter about 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of scrap lumber mounted to a post or under eaves.
  • You can add to nectar resources by providing a hummingbird feeder.
    To make artificial nectar, use four parts water to one part table sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey, or fruit juices. Place something red on the feeder. Clean your feeder with hot soapy water at least twice a week to keep it free of mold.
  • Butterflies need resources other than nectar.
    They are attracted to unsavory foodstuffs, such as moist animal droppings, urine and rotting fruits. Try putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water to see which butterflies come to investigate. Sea salt provides a broader range of micronutrients than regular table salt.
  • Learn more about pollinators
    Get some guidebooks and learn to recognize the pollinators in your neighborhood. Experiment with a pair of close-focusing binoculars for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

For More Information

  • Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants (Eastern United States) (PDF, 3.5 MB) - developed and published by the USDA Forest Service providing a guide to providing habitats for pollinators in the eastern United States.
  • Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants (PDF, 3.2 MB) - developed and published by the Lolo National Forest, Missoula, Montana, providing a guide to providing habitats for pollinators primarily in the western United States.
  • Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond (PDF, 3,9 MB) - a Utah Pests Fact Sheet published in January 2013 by Utah State University Extension and Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory. This fact sheet provides guidance for plant selection to garden for pollinators, including some 200 garden plant genera nationwide and a table of their flowering phenologies (in northern Utah). 
  • Plants for Pollinators in the Inland Northwest (PDF, 3.1 MB) - a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Technical Note, TN Plant Materials No. 2B, October 2011. This technical note provides guidance for the design and implementation of conservation plantings to enhance habitat for pollinators including bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. Plant species included in this document are adapted to the Inland Northwest, which encompasses northern Idaho, northeastern Oregon and eastern Washington.

Pawnee National Grassland Receives Its First Pollinator Garden

Aster.
Aster, a native plant in the sunflower family that attracts pollinators on the Pawnee National Grassland. Note the small pollinator insect on the right flower.

Noble Energy established a pollinator garden on the Lillifield Pipeline as part of their restoration work last fall. The fenced area was hydro-seeded with plant species native bees and butterflies favor and will help provide a space for these pollinators to thrive. Pollinators are an important part of plant reproduction. Large game animals, migratory songbirds and livestock feast on plants dependent on pollinators for propagation. Pollinators also benefit the agricultural community by proliferating important crop species. Many native bees and butterflies are declining due to the decline of pollinator plants they need to survive.

The Pawnee National Grassland (PNG) is located in northeast Colorado east of Fort Collins, Colorado, and serves as an important reserve of native short-grass prairie formerly abundant along Colorado's Front Range. This project was a cooperative effort between the oil and gas industry and federal agencies. Pawnee National Grassland employees consulted with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as they recently installed several large pollinator gardens on lands managed under the Cropland Reserve Program (CRP). These areas are located on farms and ranches near the Grassland. The PNG Planner, Biologist, and Rangeland Specialist suggested prime locations and added fencing to keep livestock out while allowing birds easy access to the garden. NRCS staff created a seed mix for the project, and Noble Energy installed the garden this fall at the direction of the PNG Lands and Minerals Specialist. "Everyone is excited to see the pollinator garden this spring. The Pawnee National Grassland is always looking for partnership opportunities such as this to expand our ability to manage the Grassland resources for long-term, public benefit," Acting District Ranger Ken Tu said.

Forest Service is Aflutter with Native Plant and Pollinator Gardens

Cranberry Mountain Nature Center Native Plant and Pollinator Garden.
The Cranberry Mountain Nature Center Native Plant and Pollinator Garden is located along an accessible walkway with views of the highland Scenic Highway. (U.S. Forest Service photo/Diana Stull).

With a view of majestic mountains in the background, visitors to the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center of the Monongahela National Forest find themselves immersed in a bevy of beautiful plants in bloom and fluttering monarch butterflies. Beneath the natural grandeur, a very essential ecosystem service is taking place – pollination.

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, June 17-21, 2013, the Forest Service invites you to come and visit the beautiful gems called Native Plant and Pollinator gardens currently in bloom in the Eastern Region.

Read more about Native Plant and Pollinator Gardens in the Eastern Region…