Guest Blog Post by Beth Fortune
“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.”—Elizabeth Lawrence
I remember as a child playing outside and listening to the sound of bumblebees as they floated in the air around my dad’s flower beds. They were slow, so they didn’t seem to be of any threat. Honeybees were plentiful and I did try to stay out of their way because they seemed to like the flowers as well as the ice cream that would drip from our cones on a hot summer day. However, the best show in the yard was put on by the butterflies fluttering among his yellow marigolds and the hummingbirds that zipped throughout his beds of red salvia and red geraniums—his favorite.
I didn’t think much about his visitors until I began to design my own garden and select my own flowers. Yes, I have my favorites—but I now try to incorporate flowers that will be beneficial to the visitors—better known as pollinators. Not only am I bringing color to my world, but I’m helping with the production of fruits and vegetables. Bees, the most important pollinators, are responsible for pollinating over 110 crops that we eat and use every day. Next time you bite into a juicy strawberry, a delicious apple, or sauté your squash and zucchini, thank a pollinator.
How do flowers get pollinated?
When they land among the male reproductive organ of one flower, the pollen sticks to either the tiny hairs on their body or on their faces or beaks, as with the hummingbird. When they get to the next flower, some of the pollen is rubbed off onto the female reproductive organ of that flower. And there you go—pollination.
3 Top Pollinators—
Let’s look at the 3 top pollinators—bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds—and learn about the types of flowers they like to visit and some plant suggestions they won’t be able to resist.
Bees transfer pollen while going after food—nectar—from the flower. As they eat, pollen collects on the tiny hairs of their body. I have seen some bees, especially bumblebees covered in specks of yellow. These little guys will travel six miles for pollen. Let’s make their trip worth it!
Plants that draw bees: Flowers with beautiful colors and refreshing scents. (And here’s a nugget for your next trivia game—Bees smell with their antennae.) Their favorite colors are yellows, purples, and blues.
Butterflies pollinate like bees but don’t pick up as much pollen because they are taller and more slender.
Plants that draw butterflies: They like brightly colored flowers and are happier when they have a place to land and take their time drinking the sweet nectar with their long tongue called a proboscis.
Hummingbirds need to drink a lot of nectar for energy to keep those tiny wings flapping. They collect pollen as they reach their long beaks into a flower to get nectar. When they finish, they will have collected pollen on their faces and beaks and pass it along to the next flower.
Plants that draw hummingbirds: Their favorite colors are red, orange, and white tubular-shaped flowers.
10 Steps to Planting to Attract Pollinators
Having earned a degree in Ornamental Horticulture I have to admit that I love plants and love to garden. But you don’t have to be a Horticulturist or a Master Gardener to have success with a pollinator garden. Just follow these steps:
- Choose both sunny locations as well as shady locations. Different types of plants require different amounts of sunlight. If the plant needs full sun, that’s at least 6 hours of sun.
- Select some plants that are native to your area.
- Make sure you have plants that bloom from early spring until fall.
- Plant in clumps or drifts. When you purchase plants, get at least three and plant them near one another.
- Stay away from modern hybrids. Sometimes during the breeding process for larger blooms and different colors, they don’t produce as much nectar and pollen. Older heirloom annuals are better for pollinators.
- Make sure you have some flowers that have single petals for bees and butterflies, and some flowers that are tubular shaped for hummingbirds.
- Include plants of various heights in your landscape.
- Create some mud puddles in the soil. This is a source of minerals for butterflies and it helps supply water during dry spells.
- Don’t be so quick to clean up for spring. Pollinators overwinter in stems and leaves. Wait until April to clean out your perennial beds.
- Be very careful about using any pesticides, even organic ones for they will harm pollinators.
We Can All Do Our Part
Mimi Jenkins, a recent graduate of Clemson University, is trying to increase the production of watermelon by planting rows of wildflowers beside rows of watermelons to attract pollinators. Why is her work, as well as the work of others in this field so important? In an article on the Clemson Extension website, Jenkins says, “Pollinators are declining at alarming rates due to a combination of habitat loss and a lack of food resources, increased pests, parasites, and pesticide use.” So, my gardening friends, let’s rise to the occasion to help create welcoming environments for some small, but important visitors to our gardens this year. Besides, who can resist watching a beautiful butterfly dance in the evening light or a hummingbird whirl overhead darting from one area of the yard to another?
Beth Fortune is a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher who also enjoys gardening. With a degree in Ornamental Horticulture, she enjoys writing gardening articles as well as teaching and speaking at Garden Clubs, church groups, and schools. She has also taught gardening workshops in her community. She can be found on Facebook sharing ideas on her group “From My Garden to Yours . . . with Beth Fortune” where she incorporates another favorite pastime—photography. She can be found on FB @BethKingFortune and B&B Photography and on Instagram @bethkfortune. If you want to read more work from Beth, you can also visit her blog at www.bethfortune.org.