Planting for Pollinators

Not all flowers are created equal… at least in the eyes (and antenna for smelling!) of pollinators. It’s important to think about the kinds of flowers we put in our community gardens, our parks, and our own backyards. Green space is precious, especially in urban centers, and the flowers we choose can have a big impact on a pollinator’s decision to choose it as their home.

Plants have flowers for one purpose – to attract a pollinator in the hopes of being fertilized by another flower’s pollen. We get the ecological benefit of the beautiful colours and floral scent that this effort produces. Breeding enthusiasts have enhanced petals, size, colour, scent, and number of flowers in order to create hybrids that humans find attractive. However, this might not always serve the wildlife that interact with them. Horticultural flowers sometimes lose their ecological service once they are bred, leaving them with little to offer the pollinators.

Native plants that our pollinators have co-evolved with offer the best source of nutrition at just the right time of year.  If you can, choose native flowers from local seed sources.

Credit: Alexadrina Mihalkova

The horticultural rose (left) is vibrant and beautiful, however the number of petals prevents a little pollinator from being able to reach the nectar and pollen hidden inside.

Credit: Erin Udal

On the right you see a native BC rose. This Nootka rose has less petals and a pollinator can easily access the nectar and pollen displayed in the center of the floret.

There is room in the garden for both our luscious, red roses but also consider making some space for native varieties as well!

Along with planting some pollinator-loving plants, here are some hot tips for making pollinator-friendly backyards.

  1. Make sure to not use pesticides, and purchase starters that have not been treated with pesticides before you bought them.
  2. Prevent turning the soil or mulching where possible. Over 70% of native bees live in the ground, and disturbed soil ruins their homes.
  3. Plan your garden according to bloom time. Bees are busy! You know the expression, make honey while the sun shines… Pollinators are need floral access throughout the whole season so make sure your garden can deliver the goods. Plant flowers that will come out in bloom succession month after month. You’ll appreciate it too!