Register your pollinator garden

Our pollinators need your help. There are over 16,000 recognized species of bees world-wide and there are many plants on every continent that rely on insect pollination. Without our bees, the world's food supply is in grave danger. Urbanization and expanded agricultural business with unsuitable plants has reduced the food available to our bees and we need to all band together to improve the situation before it is too late. There are things that everyone can do to provide food, shelter and safety for our bees and if we all pledge to do our part, the combined millions of gardens can make a huge difference. Our monarch population is starting to rebound since citizen gardeners have taken it upon themselves to plant milkweed. We need to do the same thing for our bees. Become part of the polliNATION and register your garden with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Stand up and bee counted no matter where you live. Your pollinator garden can be registered anywhere in the world.

Planning a bee-friendly garden

The size of your garden isn't important, even if it is tiny, or containers, you can join others in protecting our endangered pollinators and now is the time to start planning. There are a few things that will make your bee garden successful and one is to remember that a grouping of attractive plants is more likely to draw bees to your garden than one or two here and there. Arrange the plants so there is a block of the same ones two or three feet square. Bees like to see a patch of flowers, it makes their job of collecting nectar and pollen easier and they know it. Bees also love sunshine and a sunny spot sheltered from the wind will be even better. Give them a source of water. A shallow bowl with some pebbles for perching, or just some pebbles in one end of your birdbath will give bees a safe place to get a drink. They need a shallow area with a sturdy landing since bees can't swim.

big bumblebee

The best flowers for a pollinator garden

Bees also prefer single flowers with easy access. Daisies, zinnias, coneflowers and asters are all good choices. They also adore plants in the mint family. They swarm my chocolate mint and oregano patch when those herbs are in bloom. Sunflowers and cosmos are also good choices. They also prefer the species versions of any of these plants. Mother Nature makes sure that the most pollen and nectar are available in the wild, so those are the plants you should try to use. Nectar provides carbohydrates needed to forage and pollen provides protein needed to procreate and raise young. Hybrids may have showier and bigger flowers, however most often the nutrients needed are lacking. Choose plants that have a staggered bloom period. Make sure that from the earliest spring all the way through late autumn, something is blooming. Bees will even venture out looking for food on warm winter days and here in western Kentucky, that usually means dandelions. I have them blooming in my yard right now. Early-blooming phlox and other low growers are great for early spring since the low profile keeps some of the early spring wind away. Bees also like early blooming shrubs and my flowering quince always has early foraging bees in late winter. Most everyone plants lots of bloomers for spring and summer, however autumn is also a crucial time. Remember to include late bloomers like goldenrod and asters. A late planting of zinnias timed to bloom from August to October is also a good idea.

Be aware of different needs and limit pesticides

It is also good to remember that there are many types of bees and each species is different in their needs because of size, type of tongue and behavior. Some plants only release their pollen when a bee buzzes inside the blossom and bumblebees do this, however honeybees do not. The process is called sonication and while we are concentrating on bees in this article, note that butterflies, wasps, moths, flies, bats, birds and beetles are all pollinators as well. Plants that shed their pollen during the day will attract bees and they prefer yellow, golds and oranges; warm colors. Blues are also good., however a varied mix of different shades is always an excellent idea. A gardener who avoids pesticides will have a more successful pollinator garden than one who does not. If you must use a pesticide, spray very early in the morning or late in the day and only where you must, instead of saturating the whole garden. Have a yard, not a lawn and let the little flowers and plants that sprinkle through the grass stay. It may be the only source of food for your bees in early spring. Dandelions, violets, dutch clover, henbit and dead nettle do frustrate people with perfect carpet lawns, however I welcome them and always have a healthy bee population.

bee on aster

Look for potential pollinator spots in your community

For the next few weeks, most gardeners will be planning for spring, so take a few minutes and think about what you can do for our pollinators. If you already have appropriate plants at home, see if you can add a garden at your church or your child's school. The library is also a wonderful spot for people to plant an educational garden. Any public place where you have permission to plant is an option. Perhaps there is a green spot that could be transformed where you work, or at your bank. Just remember that if you choose to go outside your property, it is a commitment and the spot should be maintained in an orderly and attractive fashion. Nothing looks worse than a snaky, overgrown patch of unidentified, weedy plants. Perhaps your garden club or Master Gardener group could volunteer to oversee the space and the undertaking would be a team effort. Think about it as the days grow closer to spring and make your plans to help a few bees this year.