STEP 4: POLLINATORS AND PLANTS IN YOUR AREA
Now that we understand the importance of pollinators, the resources that they need to survive, and the different forms these resources come in for different pollinator species, we can design a habitat that will support native pollinators.
In this step (4) you are going to find out how you can implement each essential resource in your garden, balcony, etc. You will find out what pollinators live in your area, what food resources they utilize throughout the year, how to provide a water source, and how a variety of different plants—flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. provide important shelter and protection from the elements.
Remember the essential resources all life needs to survive:
- Food – Pollinators need a source of energy and nutrients in our gardens in the form of flowers to support their activities.
- Water – Both plants and pollinators need water to support their daily functions.
- Sunlight – Plants get their energy from the sun, and insects use the sun to warm their muscles for flying.
- Soil – Holds nutrients and water for plants to absorb through their roots. Some insects nest in soil, at night and over winter.
- Shelter – Pollinators need a safe space where they can escape the elements and predators.
***Air is also an important resource, but it is already present and doesn’t require our input. The more plant life you have, the cleaner your local air will be.***
Before we start creating our pollinator garden, we need to know which pollinators live near you.
Here are some sentences you can copy and paste into a search engine to find pollinators near you. Don’t forget to put the city you live in in the blank space for your search.
- What types of pollinator species live in your region?
- What pollinator species are in decline in your region?
Here’s a great Treehugger magazine article that might help you identify bee species in your area: How to Identify Different Types of Bees
Once you have chosen the pollinator species that you want to attract (you can choose more than one, if you wish) we can move on to the next stage. As we learned from our game activity, some plants can support more than one pollinator type.
Selecting your pollinator food plants – Why we should plant native species
Native plants are specially adapted to the soil and weather of their region, as well as the species that live there. They are naturally regulated by the biotic and abiotic factors of their ecosystem, and they provide enough resources to support the wildlife they interact with. Non-native plants may not provide pollinators with enough nectar or pollen, or may be inedible to native pollinator species.
Use the below sentences in an internet search to find what plants your pollinator is attracted to. You can also use the pollinator flower preference chart provided in your last activity to help you choose your pollinator food plants.
What native plant species in your area attract your chosen pollinator(s)?
If you have chosen butterflies or moths, remember to research which food plant the adult feeds on and which host plant the caterpillar feeds on. Making sure you choose the right one is important, because some species are so specialized, they only feed on one particular plant species.
- What is the larval host plant for your butterfly or moth pollinator species?
- What is the adult food plant for your butterfly or moth pollinator species?
It’s important to provide a continual source of food from early spring to late autumn to fully support your pollinators. Pick food plants that have overlapping bloom periods to provide a continual supply to vital nutrients and energy.
Use the sentences below to find suitable flowers for you pollinator species:
- Spring flowers for your pollinator species in your area
- Summer flowers for your pollinator species in your area
- Autumn flowers for your pollinator species in your area
It is recommended that you plant 3 different flower species for each season, 9 all together for spring, summer, and autumn, that span a minimum of 3ft in diameter. This will increase the chance of your pollinators finding them by creating big, bold, bullseyes of colour for them.
Your pollinator garden can take form anywhere, as:
- Pot plants on the patio or balcony if you don’t have a garden
- In the flower beds of your garden
- Or in planters
Please note: Space might restrict how many flower food sources you can include in your pollinator garden, so choose plants that can support multiple pollinator species; use the flower shape table included to help you.
It’s important to know that Queen bees emerge very early in spring to find a suitable place to start a nest, so if you choose bees for pollinators, make sure you plant early spring flowers, with high nectar production, or leave those weeds in your garden to flower. Dandelions are a vital food source for newly emerging bees and Queen bees.
2. Water sources
Providing a water source in your pollinator habitat is just as important as providing food resources. All life needs access to water in one form or another, for hydration or reproduction.
If your garden has a natural freshwater source, like a pond, water fountain, or free flowing stream, you do not need this step, but make sure your water source provides landing platforms, like the picture below on right. For those that don’t have fresh flowing water, here are some ways you can support your chosen pollinator species.
Water source for small insects: Masters of the sky, but not all insects can swim. By adding some pebbles, stones, any form of landing platform to your bowl of water, you will prevent them from drowning. Keep these water sources out of the open, so they don’t become a bird’s snack.
Butterfly puddling area: Like all young kids, butterflies love muddy puddles, but not for splashing in, for them to drink from. Muddy puddles contain nutrients and salt from the soil, which is an important food source for them. This behavior is called ‘Puddling’.
Water for the bats & birds: Bats swoop down to drink water, unlike birds that land and perch. A deep bird bath or water fountain would provide access for both pollinator types. Set this up away from your pollinator garden, because other birds may use it too, and you don’t want to offer an all you can eat buffet.
It’s important to remember to change the water regularly, every 2 days, so that it doesn’t become stagnant and a prime spot for mosquitoes to breed during the warmer temperatures.
Choose the location of your garden wisely; you want to choose an area that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight each day with some level of shade, so your plants receive enough sunlight without overexposure to the sun. Planting shrubs and trees will help by offering intermittent shading as the sun moves through the sky.
Place dark colored rocks in your garden, close to the hotel in regular sunlight, so your guests can warm up their body and wings to fly.
Make sure your soil is rich in organic matter content, as it contains the nutrients plants need to grow, and locks in moisture needed to create energy. Crumbly, aerated soils allow plants to take root easily, it also allows for ground dwelling insects and animals to inhabit because they can move through loose soil, acting like your own personal tillers. Compacted dirt has little moisture, no aeration or room to move.
Shelter can be provided in many different forms, depending on its purpose. By offering year-round nesting sites and a place to hibernate during winter, your pollinator species will have all the shelter resources they need to survive.
Wind protection – Planting your garden by a wall or fence, in the garden or along the house, you can provide some protection from the wind. Choosing trees, shrubs, and bushes as a food source will add some additional places to shelter from the elements, protection from the wind and escape from predators.
Nesting sites – Each pollinator has a type of nesting materials that they sleep in at night or hibernate over winter. You can create a bug hotel for your chosen pollinator using materials that replicate their natural nesting sites, or you can plant species that provide these nesting sites within them. Keeping your garden a little untidy gives your pollinator friends some great places to shelter and hide. If you want to provide a shelter, you can follow the “Build a Bug Hotel” instructions step-by-step, using materials you can find in the garden.