Pollinator Gardens: Planting with a Purpose

pollinator-garden-at-the-marion-garden-in-salem-or_18758303059_oAfter a chilly and wet winter, spring is finally here, and for many Oregonians that means getting outside and tending a garden. In addition to boosting your vitamin D, the season will keep its promise of welcoming the pollinating bugs your crops rely on. While it may be common knowledge that these pollinators are important to the growth and success of many of the fruits and vegetables we consume, one may not be as aware of how to support them in everyday gardening practices—or that you can actually plant a specific garden to do so!

In short, a pollinator garden is a plot containing a variety of purposefully planted flora that attract pollinating insects including bees, butterflies, and flies.

“Most people focus only on pollinator plants. These flowering plants offer nectar and pollen that can attract pollinating insects. But, also important are practices that allow pollinators to nest and persist in your garden,” said Gail Langellotto, the statewide coordinator for the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Master Gardener program.

For those more inclined to focus on pollinator plants than nesting, Langellotto suggests choosing native plants but also adding in lavenders, Pacific or coast rhododendron, blueblossom, ocean spray, serviceberry, Russian sage, red-flowering currant, zinnias, sunflower, salal, or catmint. However, Langellotto says that planting native milkweed should be a top priority, as it happens to be a host plant for migratory monarch butterflies.

When it comes to providing a great nesting environment, the amount of mulch is an important consideration. Too much mulch will turn away nesting bees, but on the flip side it tends to invite yellow jackets. Additionally, be mindful of hollow-stemmed plants, as cavity-nesting bees might turn them into homes.

“If you prune woody plants and create a small brush pile, this can be beneficial for cavity-nesting (and to some extent, ground-nesting) bees. Of course, this same approach can create habitat for rodents. Weigh the good against the bad, specific to what is going on in your garden,” Langellotto said.

This season, consider helping out your local friendly (and even unfriendly) pollinating bugs by planting one or two plants they’d love. After all, many of the summer treats available for consumption in the next few months will be a product of the pollinators’ hard work.

For further information on gardening, visit http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/

By Liz Sterling