Monday Escape: Pollinator Week Wrap-Up (with design plans!)

Bee and Foxglove. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

The first “official” customer of my pollinator garden!

Pollinator Week officially ended yesterday, but I wanted to mention a few more things you could add to your garden, patio, or even balcony to attract these helpful little insects. I’ve something for our Canadian friends, and a list of garden design plans you can use to inspire or plan your own pollinator garden as well!

  • A water source: Insects need water too! A shallow bowl set flush with the soil is perfect. Put a few stones into the bowl—by the way, water catching saucers from old terra cotta pots work perfectly for this—for your ‘visitors’ to sit upon as they take a drink. For butterflies, the NABA suggests a puddling station of damp ground covered with sand; a birdbath with shallow water and a few stones inside will work nicely as well.
  • Sunning spots: Unlike humans, bugs don’t need sunblock (lucky critters), and in fact need the warmth of the sun’s rays. A flat stone or two set into spots that receive at least six hours of sunlight a day are ideal, and will draw many butterflies.
  • Plant sunflowers! Bees especially love sunflowers, and come autumn, these perennial (well, actually, they’re annuals, but…) favourites will be swarmed with birds eagerly taking their fill of the flowers’ famed seeds. Feeling lucky? Plant some clover—which is great for your lawn, by the way, because it pulls nitrogen into the soil.
  • Mud pies: Most of America’s native bees—which again, are quite docile and laid-back, and thus unlikely to sting—make nests using mud. A little mud spot will be quite useful to them, as well as butterflies, who will drink water from the mud (some of the things butterflies are happy eating turned my stomach, but…hey, we all have our jobs, right?).
    Monarch Butterfly at Mount Vernon in B&W. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.
  • Nesting spots (2-page PDF from Xerces.org): There are countless online tutorials for such things. I like this one, which uses an old tin can and rolled-up paper; there’s another made from an old stump, though I’d put a removable paper tube of some sort into the holes. Be sure to replace the paper tubes after the bees have hatched; old tubes can attract and harbor mites that will kill the mason bee pupae, and I know you don’t want that to happen! Bare, sunny spots of soil—no grass, no plants, no mulch—are attractive to other species of bee. Bat houses are becoming more commonplace, too—one of my favourite local shops here in the Columbus area, Outside Envy, has some very attractive, understated ones made by a local artist (and the owner of Outside Envy, who is very nice, will ship just about anywhere!).
  • Shelter: Many bees will take cover in brush piles and even overwinter there (no wonder they’re furry). Obviously this sort of thing has the potential to  be unattractive, but tucked into a back corner of your pollinator garden, behind a shrub, it won’t be as noticeable. You can also grow vines such as passionflower over the area during the summer to camouflage it. We just tore out some ugly, overgrown shrubs this weekend, and I made a small brush pile in the back of the pollinator garden for just this purpose. Now…the vine part! A patch or two of tall grass that you do not mow will also be helpful. Keep old tree stumps around, too—I’ve seen people turn these into planters or “fairy houses”.
  • A chair: Not for the pollinators, for you. Plant it in a spot where you have a great view of your kaleidoscopic, sweet-smelling garden and all of its visitors. Pour yourself a cold drink (or a pitcher of them) and enjoy, perhaps with a friend  or neighbor sitting alongside. If you’re feeling really courageous…wear a flower in your hair and see how many hummingbirds buzz you.
Bumblebee and forget-me-not. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“Summer Sipper”

Finally, I found quite a few actual garden design plans for you. Don’t be overwhelmed—it’s okay to start small, believe me! Even a containerful of colourful blooms or herbs on your patio will go a long way. But having a plan is often all most people need to ‘see’ their idea.

Finally, for my Canuck readers—a whole list of pollinator links specifically geared toward Canada (though the rest of us will find many of the links helpful as well).

What are you waiting for? Get out there and plant something!

Besides, playing around in the garden is supremely good for the soul. Especially on a Monday!

For more about Pollinator Week and to learn what you can do to help butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, beetles, moths, and other pollinators, no matter how much space you have to work with, please take a look at my Friday post about Pollinator Week!

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