Gardening for Pollinators

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By: L. Leland

We have all read the news stories about the sad plight of pollinators today. Monoculture, pesticides, and loss of habitat are three big reasons they are having issues. With pollinators in decline, plants are suffering as well due to decreased reproduction. Maybe you are concerned, but you don’t know where to start? Luckily there are lots of options for ways you can help!

At a basic level, insects, birds, and mammals are attracted to certain flowers because they have food content. When they eat or collect pollen and nectar, they also pollinate the plant. Providing safe forage is key to their survival. Did you know that many stores carry plants that have been pre-treated with neonicotinoids? This is a class of pesticide that are systemic, causing the plant to produce the poison for years after your purchase! To avoid these, please find nurseries that carry untreated plants, buy organic, or start your own plants from untreated seeds.

One great way to help is to plant a perennial garden that provides flowers over the longest timeline possible throughout the year. If you search for “bloom calendars,” you can find some great resources for planning.

Not all flowers are created equal when it comes to providing food. Take some time to research great pollinator plants, there are some ideas to get you started below.

There are quite a number of native flowers that are great forage plants. A short list includes: Ceanothus, Rhododendron, Mock Orange, Red Osier Dogwood, Red Flowering Currant, and Oregon Grape.

Great perennials: Mint, Echinacea, Lemon Balm, Vitex, Hardy Fuchsia, Comfrey, Rosemary, Aster, Pincushion Flower, Penstemon.

Some fun annuals include: Borage, Poppies, Sunflowers, Crimson Clover, Calendula, Cosmos, Alyssum.

My favorite trees for forage include: Willows, Eucalyptus, Catalpa, Japanese Snowbell, Tulip Poplar, American Basswood, Sourwood, Maples, Magnolia.

Relax a bit about your lawn. (Or even replace it!) Weeds can provide great food, including Dandelions, Clover, Purple Dead Nettle, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

Adult butterflies will drink nectar from a wide variety of exotic plants, but to support the entire life cycle you have to do some research. For our Oregon State Swallowtail the caterpillars will munch on Arctic Sagebrush, plants in the Sunflower family, and some plants in the Parsley family. Please make sure to research what their eggs, young instars, caterpillars, and chrysalis’ look like so that you do not accidentally destroy the butterflies you are trying to help!

Beyond plants, you can also provide water for our friendly garden visitors. For bees, create a water source that does not move very fast and is filled with rocks and moss so that they do not drown. Butterflies prefer mud puddles because they obtain minerals when they drink (for male butterflies you can add a bit of salt for sodium).

I hope this is enough to spark your interest and get you started! I teach a class called Gardening for Pollinators through the OSU Master Gardeners, so please let me know if your organization would like to host it!

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