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  • Writer's pictureKassi Kuppinger

Pollinator Gardening 101: Your Beginner's Guide

Pollinators are responsible for the vast majority of edible and flowering plants that we enjoy and consume. Fruits and vegetables that we eat and many plants used to feed livestock are all pollinated by bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. As people become increasingly aware of the vital role that pollinators play in our ecosystems and food systems, the popularity of pollinator gardens continues to grow. In this post, we'll explore what pollinator gardening is all about, why it's important, how you can create your own pollinator-friendly oasis, and so much more. Whether you've been gardening for years or are new to the scene, there's something for everyone in the world of pollinator gardening. So, grab your gardening gloves and let's dive in!


bee covered in pollen landing on a yellow flower

What Are Pollinator Gardens?

Pollinator gardens are landscapes specifically designed to attract and support a specific collection of beneficial insects often referred to as pollinators. Such landscapes are planted with flowering trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals that are particularly attractive to pollinators. They typically include a diverse array of flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season to provide a continuous source of nectar and pollen for pollinators. These gardens are intentionally created to provide essential habitat and food sources for pollinators, helping to support healthy ecosystems and ensure the reproduction of flowering plants. In addition to providing food sources, pollinator gardens also offer shelter, nesting sites, and other resources that are essential for the survival of pollinators. They can be created in a variety of settings and can range in size from small container gardens to large landscapes.


Why Are Pollinator Gardens Important?

Pollinator gardens are essential because they provide crucial habitats and food sources for pollinators and other beneficial insects. These creatures play a vital role in pollinating plants, which is necessary for the reproduction of many crops and wild plants. Without healthy pollinator populations, we would see a significant decline in food production and biodiversity. Pollinator gardens help combat the deterioration of these important species by offering safe, pesticide-free environments rich in nectar and pollen, thus supporting the health and sustainability of our ecosystems.


Types of Pollinators

Colorado boasts a diverse array of pollinators, some of which include bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats, beetles, flies, and wasps. When planting pollinator gardens, native plants are ideal as they are well-adapted to the local environment, provide a reliable food source, and cater well to the needs of pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are arguably the three most common pollinators. Here is more information and insight into specific plant types and colors that are particularly attractive to these beneficial insects.


Bees

Bees are particularly attracted to pollinator-friendly plants that offer abundant nectar and pollen. They are drawn to flowers with bright colors, especially blue, purple, and yellow. Examples of bee-attracting plants include lavender, bee balm, coneflower, borage, and sunflowers.


Butterflies

Butterflies are particularly attracted to pollinator-friendly plants that provide a landing platform and are rich in pollen and nectar. They favor brightly colored flowers, especially those in red, orange, yellow, and purple hues. Examples of butterfly-attracting plants include butterfly bush, milkweed, lantana, zinnias, and coneflowers.


Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to pollinator-friendly plants that produce tubular-shaped flowers rich in nectar. They are drawn to vibrant colors, especially red, orange, and pink. Examples of hummingbird-attracting plants include trumpet vine, bee balm, red hot pokers, columbine, and fuchsia.


7 Benefits of Pollinator Gardens

Creating a pollinator garden offers numerous benefits for both the environment and the gardener. Some of the key advantages include:


1. The Pollination of Plants

Pollinator gardens provide essential food sources for bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. These animals play a crucial role in the pollination of flowering plants, including many crops that humans rely on for food. By providing habitat and food sources for pollinators, pollinator gardens help support healthy ecosystems and ensure the reproduction of plants. Pollinator gardens help ensure food security and support agricultural productivity.


2. Encourages Biodiversity

Pollinator gardens contribute to biodiversity by attracting a diverse range of pollinators and supporting a variety of plant species. Biodiversity is essential for the health and resilience of ecosystems, as it provides stability and ensures the availability of resources for animals and plants.


3. Habitat Creation

Pollinator gardens create valuable habitats for pollinators in areas where natural habitats may be limited. These gardens provide shelter, nesting sites, and food sources for a variety of pollinator species.


4. Conservation

Many pollinator species are facing threats such as habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. Pollinator gardens provide important habitat and refuge for these species, helping to conserve and protect them for future generations.


5. Education and Awareness

Pollinator gardens serve as living classrooms, providing opportunities for education and awareness about the importance of pollinators and the threats they face. By engaging people of all ages in the creation and maintenance of pollinator gardens, we can foster a greater appreciation for the natural world and inspire positive action to protect pollinators and their habitats.


6. Beauty

Pollinator gardens are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing. They can add color, texture, and fragrance to outdoor spaces, enhancing the beauty of gardens, parks, and landscapes.


7. Environmental Benefits

By supporting pollinators, pollinator gardens contribute to broader environmental goals, such as mitigating the impacts of climate change, improving soil health, and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.


What Materials Are Needed for a Pollinator Garden?

Pollinator gardens generally require materials similar to any other vegetable garden or flower garden. Here is a list of materials and supplies you will need to get started!


- Quality Potting Soil

If you want to grow healthy plants, you need a high quality growing medium that will support and encourage healthy growth.


- Compost

It is highly recommended to mix compost into your gardens and flower beds as this organic matter will provide the nutrients your flowering plants need to thrive.


- Mulch

It is recommended to mulch your pollinator garden as this will help to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and many other benefits.


- Spade, Shovel, Gardening Gloves, and Other Tools & Supplies

A variety of gardening tools will make the task of preparing and planting your pollinator garden much easier. The tools you require may depend slightly on the plants you have selected. In general, you may benefit from having a spade for planting smaller plants, a larger shovel for mixing compost into your soil and planting larger selections, gardening gloves, and perhaps a rake for spreading soil or mulch, breaking up clumps of dirt, etc. Shop our wide selection of gardening tools and supplies online today!


- Hose or Irrigation System

Once your pollinator garden is planted, it will be very important to water regularly. Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennial plants require consistent watering for the first year or two after planting in order to encourage strong root establishment. Shop hoses and hose attachments online!


- Pollinator Friendly Plant Material

In order for your garden to be attractive to pollinators of all kinds, you must select a diverse array of pollinator friendly trees, shrubs, perennial plants, annual flowers, wildflower seed, or whatever else you would like to include in your pollinator garden.


How Do You Start a Pollinator Garden?

Starting a pollinator garden is a rewarding and relatively straightforward process. By following these steps, you can create a beautiful and thriving pollinator garden that attracts a diverse range of pollinators and contributes to the health of local ecosystems. Here are some steps to help you get started:


STEP 1: Choose a Location

Select a suitable location for your pollinator garden. Ideally, choose a sunny spot that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Most pollinator-friendly plants require full sun, which means 6-8 hours of direct sun exposure per day is ideal.


STEP 2: Plan Your Garden

Take some time to plan your pollinator garden layout. Consider the size and shape of the garden, as well as the types of plants you want to include. Aim for a diverse mix of flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season to provide a continuous source of nectar and pollen for pollinators.


STEP 3: Select Pollinator-Friendly Plants

Choose a variety of pollinator-friendly plants that are native to your region. Look for plants with different flower shapes, colors, and sizes to attract a diverse range of pollinators. Some popular choices include bee balm, coneflower, milkweed, lavender, and goldenrod.


STEP 4: Prepare the Soil

Before planting, prepare the soil by removing any weeds and loosening the soil to improve drainage. Add organic matter such as compost or aged manure to enrich the soil and provide nutrients for the plants.


STEP 5: Plant Your Garden

Plant your selected pollinator-friendly plants according to your garden plan. Be sure to space plants appropriately to allow for their mature size and growth habit. Water newly planted plants thoroughly and regularly for the first 1-2 years after planting to help them establish strong and deep roots.


STEP 6: Provide Water and Shelter

Consider adding a shallow water source, such as a birdbath or shallow dish filled with water, to provide drinking water for pollinators. You can also include features such as rocks, logs, and brush piles to provide shelter and nesting sites for insects and other wildlife.


STEP 7: Maintain Your Garden

Once your pollinator garden is established, be sure to provide ongoing care and maintenance. Water your garden as needed, remove weeds, and deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming. Avoid using pesticides, as they can harm pollinators and other beneficial insects.


Pollinator Friendly Plants

Below are some examples of trees, shrubs, perennial plants, annual flowers, vegetables, and more. Any combination of these pollinator-friendly plants would create a potent and pleasing garden that is sure to attract all the bees, butterflies, birds, and any other pollen-loving creatures.


Annual Flowers and Plants

cosmos pollinator friendly annual flower
  • Cosmos: These big and beautiful annual flowers come in a spread of colors from deep magenta to soft pink to pure white. They are a favorite among many pollinators and add height, texture, and color to any pollinator garden.


marigold pollinator friendly annual flower
  • Marigolds: These annual flowers are a classic. They come in shades of yellow and orange with some multicolor varieties. They are also great for companion gardening, attracting beneficial insects but repelling undesirable ones. Marigolds, while they are annuals, they often reseed themselves and come back in subsequent years. Perfect for pollinator gardening in Colorado.


zinnia pollinator friendly annual flower
  • Zinnias: Standing tall and proud, zinnias provide a burst of color that pollinators are unable to resist. From pinks and purples to orange, red, and yellow, these flowers come in nearly every color of the rainbow. Enjoy these annual flowers in your garden or in a vase.


Lantana pollinator friendly annual flower
  • Lantana: A favorite among pollinators, especially butterflies, lantana is a dazzling annual flower that comes in many colors. Their flower bunches often display a mesmerizing gradient of color that contrasts beautifully with its dark green foliage. Enjoy these pollinator-friendly annual flowers in your flower gardens, flowerpots, and hanging baskets.


garden vegetables  pollinator friendly annual plants
  • Cucumber, Squash, and Other Garden Veggies: While you may not have thought to incorporate garden vegetables into your pollinator garden, many of these plants are fantastic for attracting beneficial bugs such as bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, and more. Their large and showy yellow flowers are irresistible, and their growth habits can make a fun and effective addition to your pollinator sanctuary.


chives pollinator friendly annual plants
  • Chives: These miniature onions are packed with mild and delicious flavor, not to mention, they are also extremely ornamental and attract tons of bees and butterflies to your gardens! Their purple flowers are long-lasting and can be used as cut flowers. These annuals often reseed themselves and may come back year after year with little to no work.


plant wildflowers in your pollinator gardens
  • Wildflowers: Wildflowers are an amazing option when considering what to plant in your pollinator garden. You can buy wildflower seeds that come in mixed varieties for different purposes. Some are annual, some are perennial, some are specific to pollinators, some are ideal for shade, others for sun, etc. Wildflowers are often pollinator favorites and are a great option if you cannot figure out specific individual plants to include in your pollinator garden. Check out different wildflower seed mixes online today!


Perennial Plants

Agastache (Hyssop) pollinator friendly perennial
  • Agastache (Hyssop): This full sun perennial is hardy to zone 4 and grows 20" - 24" tall and 16" - 20" wide. It comes in a variety of colors including orange, pink, purple, yellow, and red, blooming in the summer and fall seasons. Attracts pollinators, attracts hummingbirds, deer-resistant, rabbit-resistant, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, fragrant, and xeric.


Echinacea (Coneflower) pollinator friendly perennials
  • Echinacea (Coneflower): Another full sun perennial hardy to zone 4. Grows up to 30" tall and 24" wide. Blooms appear in summer and fall and can come in red, pink, purple, yellow, and orange. These flowers are excellent for attracting pollinators and birds, are deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, provide winter interest, and are xeric.


Penstemon (Beardtongue) pollinator friendly perennials
  • Penstemon (Beardtongue): Full sun perennial hardy to zone 4. Mature size is approximately 14" - 18" tall and 12" - 14" wide. Expect summertime blooms of pink and purple. Great for attracting pollinators such as hummingbirds and butterflies. Deer-resistant, rabbit-resistant, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, and xeric.


Columbine pollinator friendly perennials
  • Columbine: This full sun perennial is also a Colorado native. It is very hardy, tolerating zones as cold as zone 3. It can tolerate partial shade, grows 12-24 inches tall and wide, comes in a variety of colors (though white and blue are the traditional colors), and blooms in spring. This plant attracts a variety of pollinators, makes for a beautiful cut flower, is deer-resistant, rabbit-resistant, and drought-tolerant.

Astilbe (False Spirea) pollinator friendly perennials
  • Astilbe (False Spirea): This pollinator-friendly perennial prefers shaded locations, though it can tolerate some sun. Hardy to zone 4-9, it grows up to two feet tall and can reach widths of 1-2 feet, approximately. Coming in white, red, pink, purple, yellow, and orange, there is a color to fit any palette! Deer and rabbit-resistant.


Bee Balm (Monarda) pollinator friendly perennials
  • Bee Balm (Monarda): Hardy to zones 4-8, this sun perennial grows around 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. It is typically found in pink, red, and purple with green foliage. Blooming in the summer, this fragrant perennial is deer-resistant, rabbit-resistant, and is sure to bring the bees to the yard.


Honeysuckle pollinator friendly perennials
  • Honeysuckle: This vining perennial prefers full sun, though it can tolerate some shade. Hardy to zones 4-11, it can grow up to 15 feet tall with a spread of around 3 feet. Its blooms emerge in summer and are most commonly a mix of white, yellow, pink, and orange flowers. This plant is great for pollinator gardening, is low-maintenance, fragrant, deer-resistant, and drought-tolerant.


Oriental Lilies pollinator friendly perennials
  • Oriental Lilies: Oriental lilies are exotic and beautiful in appearance. They are aromatic, colorful, and highly attractive to pollinators, especially hummingbirds. These perennials can be hardy to zone 4, though this is somewhat variety-dependent. They like full sun and can tolerate some shade. They grow quite tall, reaching up to 3 feet in height, displaying beautiful summertime blooms for all to enjoy.


Tall Garden Phlox pollinator friendly perennials
  • Tall Garden Phlox: This hardy perennial prefers sunny locations but can tolerate shade. Blooms of white, pink, purple, and coral appear in the summer and stand over a foot tall and wide. Fragrant cut flowers can be enjoyed in the home. These beauties are deer-resistant and great for attracting beneficial bugs to your pollinator garden.


Coral Bells (Heuchera) pollinator friendly perennials
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera): These flowering perennials get their name from the petite, bell-shaped, coral-colored flowers lining tall stalks that emerge from the bushy foliage below. Depending on the variety, the foliage of these plants can range anywhere from lime green to purple to grey-green to variegated. These pollinator-friendly plants can grow in sun or shade, though some shade is preferred. They are deer-resistant, low-maintenance, make great cut flowers, and are beloved among pollinators!


Virginia Bluebells pollinator friendly perennials
  • Virginia Bluebells: These shade-loving perennials are hardy to zone 3, are deer-resistant, and grow approximately 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. Their beautiful blue flowers appear in the spring and dangle from flower stalks like bells. Add these pollinator-friendly plants to your flower garden and reap all the benefits of pollinator gardens.


Jacob's Ladder pollinator friendly perennials
  • Jacob's Ladder: Fragrant, deer-resistant, and popular among pollinators, this flowering perennial is hardy in zones 3-7 and prefers sunny growing conditions. Their already decorative, variegated foliage is complemented by light blue blooms that appear in summer. Growing over a foot tall and wide, Jacob's ladder is the perfect perennial for your pollinator garden.


Sedum (Stonecrop) pollinator friendly perennials
  • Sedum (Stonecrop): These succulent perennials come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Their diversely colored foliage and blooms will leave you in awe, and their hardiness makes them tolerant of a number of environmental factors. They prefer to grow in full sun, are xeric, resistant to rabbits and deer, and are a pollinator favorite.


Flowering Shrubs

currant pollinator friendly flowering shrub
  • Currant: Currants are flowering shrubs that show vibrant pink, red, white, or yellow blooms in the spring and produce small red berries later in the season. Alpine currants specifically are very hardy, able to grow in zones as cold as hardiness zone 2. They prefer to grow in partially shaded locations, can reach up to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and attract pollinators of all kinds.


butterfly bush pollinator friendly flowering shrub
  • Butterfly Bush: This flowering shrub gets its name from how expertly it draws in butterflies of all kinds. Requiring full sun, it is hardy to zone 5 and grows anywhere from 4-6 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide. This deer-resistant plant also makes beautiful cut flower bouquets.


yellow rose pollinator friendly
  • Roses: As we all know, roses are flowering shrubs that come in countless colors, styles, growth patterns, and sizes. From climbing roses to miniature roses, size varies greatly on the rose type. They generally require full sun and are hardy to zone 5. Their colorful and often fragrant blooms make them great for attracting pollinators, and they can also be enjoyed within your home as cut flowers.


Spirea pollinator friendly flowering shrub
  • Spirea: This flowering shrub grows approximately 3-5 feet tall and wide. It produces pink blooms in summer and requires full sun, though partial shade is tolerable. Hardy to zones 4-9, this plant is a favorite among birds and other pollinators and is coveted for its low-maintenance nature.


Russian sage pollinator friendly flowering shrub
  • Russian Sage: Sun-loving and hardy to zones 4-9, Russian sage grows up to 4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. Its silver-green feathery foliage creates a beautiful contrast with its purple blooms, appearing in summer and lasting through fall. This flowering shrub is a favorite among bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies while remaining resistant to deer and rabbits. Its xeric nature also makes it drought tolerant and low-maintenance.


Pollinator Friendly Trees

pollinator friendly apple trees
  • Apple Trees: There are many different types of fruit trees that are fantastic for attracting pollinators. Depending on the variety, some apple varieties are large and take up a lot of space, while others are dwarf varieties that are more conducive to smaller areas. Typically blooming in spring, apple trees require full sun. Click here to check out the best apple trees for Colorado.


Northern catalpa pollinator friendly flowering tree
  • Northern Catalpa: These trees are truly beyond words with their luscious foliage accented by clumps of frilly white flowers. Growing up to 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide, they require full sun and ample space to mature. They are drought tolerant once established, are fast-growing, and attract pollinators of all kinds.


Pollinator Garden FAQ's


Q: What Time of Year Should I Plant My Pollinator Garden?

A: The best time of year to plant a pollinator garden depends on various factors, including your location, climate, and the types of plants you plan to include. In general, the ideal time to plant a pollinator garden is in the spring or fall, as these seasons offer mild temperatures and ample moisture, which can help new plants establish themselves more successfully. Here in Colorado, we recommend getting your pollinator garden going in the spring.


- Planting a Pollinator Garden in Spring

Planting in the spring allows plants to establish their root systems before the heat of summer arrives. For people looking to start a pollinator garden in Colorado, we recommend this time of year, as it also allows your plants a full season to begin establishing themselves before winter settles in. Winters in Colorado can be cold and harsh, and while fall is still a great time for planting, any trees, shrubs, or perennials planted in spring will have had more time to establish roots before the ground freezes and therefore will have a better chance of survival.


- Planting a Pollinator Garden in Fall

Planting in the fall can also be advantageous, especially in areas with mild winters. Cooler temperatures and ample rainfall can help new plants establish strong root systems before the onset of winter. Here in Colorado, if you choose to plant in the fall, it will be important to mulch the base of your plants, and watering throughout the winter may be necessary depending on temperatures and precipitation. Extreme cold spells could damage new plant material, so take preventative measures in these situations and protect your plants from the cold.


Q: What Is a Good Size for a Pollinator Garden?

A: The size of a pollinator garden can vary depending on factors such as available space, personal preferences, and goals. Generally speaking, it is ideal to plan for a size that allows for the inclusion of a diverse range of plants, which will help to attract a variety of pollinators and increase the efficacy of your pollinator garden. However, even a small garden or container garden can provide valuable habitat for pollinators if planted with pollinator-friendly plants. The key is to choose a variety of plants that bloom at different times throughout the season to provide a continuous source of nectar and pollen for pollinators. Ultimately, the size of a pollinator garden is less important than the quality of the habitat it provides. Regardless of size, a well-planned and maintained pollinator garden can make a significant difference in supporting pollinator populations and promoting biodiversity.


Q: Can You Grow a Pollinator Garden in Shade?

A: Yes, you can grow a pollinator garden in shade, although the types of plants you choose will differ from those suited for full sun. While many pollinator-friendly plants prefer full sun, there are still plenty of options for shade-loving plants that can attract and support pollinators.


When planning a pollinator garden in shade, it's essential to consider the specific light conditions of your garden and select plants that are well-suited to those conditions. Additionally, providing supplemental water and ensuring good soil drainage can help shade-loving pollinator plants thrive. With careful plant selection and proper care, you can create a beautiful and thriving pollinator garden even in shady areas.


Q: Should You Mulch a Pollinator Garden?

A: Yes, mulching a pollinator garden can provide many benefits. Firstly, mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, which is especially important during hot and dry periods. Consistent soil moisture is crucial for the health of pollinator-friendly plants and ensures they have access to the water they need to thrive. Secondly, mulch helps suppress weed growth, which can compete with your plants for water, nutrients, and sunlight. By keeping weeds at bay, mulch allows pollinator plants to grow more vigorously and reduces the need for manual weeding. Thirdly, mulch acts as insulation, helping to regulate soil temperature by keeping it cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. This can create a more hospitable environment for pollinators and their larvae. The fourth to mulch your pollinator garden is that organic mulches, such as wood chips or shredded leaves, break down over time and add organic matter to the soil. This improves soil structure, fertility, and microbial activity, creating a healthier growing environment for pollinator plants. The fifth and final reason to use mulch is that it helps prevent soil erosion by reducing the impact of heavy rain and runoff. This protects the roots of pollinator plants and prevents soil loss, which can be especially important on sloped or uneven terrain.


When mulching a pollinator garden, it's essential to choose a mulch material that is free of pesticides and herbicides, as these chemicals can be harmful to pollinators. Additionally, avoid placing mulch directly against the stems of plants to prevent moisture-related issues and discourage pests. Overall, if done right, mulching can be a valuable practice for maintaining a healthy and thriving pollinator garden.


We Are Here to Help with Your Pollinator Garden

If you are looking for more help or guidance on how to begin your pollinator gardening adventure, let us know! We are here to help get you started and can assist in picking out pollinator-friendly plants, help you understand the benefits of pollinator gardens, get you going with the right supplies, and more. Just come into our Garden Center in Fort Collins, give us a call, or shop with us online.

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