You’re probably aware that this week, June 22-June 28, has been designated as National Pollinator Week. Pollinator Partnership is celebrating this week by lighting buildings across the country with orange and yellow lights to call attention to the tiny insects and hummingbirds that are so necessary for food production.
That’s wonderful, but what’s even more wonderful is that many people are planting pollinator gardens and hanging hummingbird feeders in hopes of attracting more bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. This year, there seems to be an increased interest in backyard gardening, and I think that because of the pandemic many people are more aware than ever of the need for food security-and for the pollinators that make it possible.
It’s not hard to establish a pollinator garden, and it doesn’t require much space. I live in a condo, so I’m limited to a container garden on my patio and a couple of small flowerbeds. Still, I try to do my best, and frequently I’m rewarded with the buzz of bees, the raipd flutter of a passing hummingbird, or the sight of a butterfly flitting gracefully across my flowerbed. So, I’ve prepared a few tips for attracting these polinators as well as some links to websites where you can get some expert advice.
The first thing to remember about bees is that they are your friend, and it’s a good thing to have them around because they’re there to pollinate your flowers and vegetables. If you see them, don’t swat, because while they normally don’t sting, they might become a little defensive if you appear aggressive. And for heaven’s sake, get rid of those poisons. You’re not only killing the bees, which are necessary for food, but you’re poisoning the whole food chain right up to domestic animals and humans.
Instead, try to provide a safe habitat for them, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service provides a wealth of information for urban and suburban gardeners. Many flowering plants will attract them, but natives are best because the highly cultivated hybrids often have little of the nectar or pollen that attracts bees. Daisiess, sunflowers, salvias, and coreopsis are among the many plants that bees seem to adore.
Earlier this spring, I had swarms of bumblebees on my patio while my columbine was blooming, and while the columbine is out of bloom now many have taken up residence on the malva. I’m partiularly partial to bumblebees because I love the humming, buzzzing sound and because they almost never sting.
Monarda, dianthus, larkspur, Joe Pye Weed, and scaboisa are among the many plants that will attract butterflies. I’ve also found that sages, or salvias work wonders in attracting butterflies as well as bees, and they’re repeat bloomers that are available in a variety of colors and produces blooms all season.
Mints, including our own native mountain mint, or Pycnanthemum Virginianum, also attract butterflies. I see a lot of horsemint at False Cape State Park, and I also see more butterflies there than anyplace else that I go. August, when many of the wildflowers are blooming, is a particularly good month for butterfly watching.
To keep our native Swallowtails and Monarchs coming back, plant host plants to provide a place for the mother to lay her eggs. Swallotails lay their eggs on parsley and dill, so if you see a caterpillar munching these herbs, don’t pull it off. Yeah, he’ll probably devour your herbs, but your reward will be a newly hatched butterfly.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and while tropical milkweed, which grows here as an annual, is a little controversial, many milkweeds are native to Virginia and absolutely butterfly-safe.
There are many resources, including The Virginia Butterfly Society, that provide information on how to attract butterflies to your garden.
I’ve saved my favorite for last. Who doesn’t get excited at the sight of a hummingbird flitting aroound a feeder or flower? They move so quickly that all too often they’ve disappeared before you can really get a good sighting, and I’ve never been able to get a picture of one. Still, I’m happy to report that my resident male and female-I supsect the same ones from last summer-have once again hatched babies on my neighbor’s patio!
Hummingbirds are generally attracted to bright reds and pinks, so dianthus, columbine, zinnias, and many other bright flowers attract them. They also like tubular flowers, and the cigar plant, or firecracker plant, seems to draw them like a magnet.
If you want to learn more about native plants to attract pollinators, check out the Virginia Beach Master Gardener pollinator garden at Virginia Beach Farmers Market, located at 3640 Dam Neck Road. Norfolk Botanical Gardens also has a butterfly house, and although it’s not open right now because of the pandemic, you can visit it virtually and learn more about native butterflies. If you live outside Hampton Roads, check out your local Master Garden website and extension agency for more information.