Pollination is critical to the survival of many plants. While some plants are able to be fertilized by the wind, most rely on animals and insects to move the pollen from the male anther to the female stigma. Without bees, hummingbirds, beetles, bats, butterflies or flies to help carry the pollen around while they are looking for nectar as a food source, we would be without many crops, including blueberries, apples, squash and many other fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, disease, and inappropriate use of pesticides many pollinator numbers are in decline. By introducing plants into your garden that will support pollinators, you are not only helping pollinators survive, but are also supporting our food production.
Honey bees are usually the first pollinator that come to most peoples minds when thinking of pollination. They are the workhorse of agricultural pollination in Canada with the first bees imported to Canada over 400 years ago. In addition to the honey bee, the mason bee (Osmia spp.) has grown in popularity in British Columbia. Emerging earlier in the spring than honey bees they are fast fliers and have high bloom visitation rates. Mason bees are especially attracted to pear, apple, and cherry trees, but some of their other nectar sources include quince and blueberries. Their high activity even in poor or cool weather conditions make them a great pollinators for early blooming crops, especially in British Columbia.
The hummingbird is the primary bird that provides pollination in North America. Unlike bees, hummingbirds are able to see the colour red and are attracted to tubular shaped flowers which allow them to use their long beaks and curled tongues to collect nectar. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is a great summer-blooming pick to attract hummingbirds because of its bright red tubular flowers. Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) is a great drought-resistant pick that also attracts hummingbirds. Don’t forget that many annuals, such as fuchsias, are another way to get hummingbirds into your garden. You can also supplement your plant picks by providing hummingbird feeders. You will want to make sure you choose a feeder that is easy to clean, as any build up of mold or bacteria can be extremely toxic to hummingbirds. Select an area that is open, sunny,and protected from any predators, such as cats.
Butterflies not only assist in pollination, but also provide beauty to the garden. You will want to select plants that attract the adult, like lupines (Lupinus spp.) or lilacs (Syringa spp.), as well as plants that attract the larvae, such as native grasses or western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa). The David Suzuki Foundation has brought a lot of attention to the monarch butterfly and its lack of food sources. To help provide food sources, you can plant Asclepias, also known as a butterfly weed. It is a great food source, and is also the only plant the monarch will lay its eggs on.
While sometimes thought of as just pests, flies, beetles, ants and wasps also assist in garden pollination. It is thought that the beetle was the very first pollinator! Many beetles will lay their eggs in dying trees. The larvae then burrow underneath the bark and into the wood, which creates great nesting sites for mason bees and leaf cutter bees. Sometimes they may seem like an annoyance in the garden, but really, these insects are indirectly assisting pollination in a major way.
Attracting Pollinators to your Garden
To successfully attract pollinators to your garden, you will need to provide food, water, shelter and a safe place to nest. You can provide food sources with your plant selections, or in the case of hummingbirds, with a clean feeder (visit Marnie at our Information Desk for a list of great pollinator plants). A water source is sometimes overlooked but very important. Take a saucer or dish, place some rocks in it and fill with water. Be sure to leave some of the tops of the rocks dry so that pollinators have a place to land. Leave some deadwood in the garden as it provides great nesting areas, and try to leave your garden clean up until the spring so that overwintering perennials and grasses can provide shelter. With a bit of planning and effort, you are sure to successfully attract many pollinators to your garden that are not only a pleasure to watch and enjoy, but also help support our food production.