Pollinators at Home: Intro to Pollinator Gardening

Photo © John R. Kelsey

Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds bring summer gardens to life. Many find the hum of these pollinators a subtle reminder of the interdependence of plants and animals and the cyclic dance of life playing out in our own backyards. Pollinators play a critically important role in plant reproduction, and without them we wouldn’t have much of the food we consume, like fruits and vegetables. Creating pollinator habitat in your backyard is a great way to address this important conservation issue while adding beautiful, wildlife-friendly landscaping.

Malcolm Carlaw

Photo © Malcolm Carlaw

Human agricultural systems are highly dependent on insect pollination. Research suggests that native bees provide about $57 billion annually in pollination services to the U.S. economy and perhaps as much as $167 billion globally, with one in three bites of food reliant on the work of pollinators. Without pollinators, plants would not successfully produce seed to replace themselves, many animals would struggle to find adequate food, and our vegetated landscapes would drastically change.


Photo © lightcubex

The current plight of the pollinator has been well documented across the country as social media, consumer advertising, and local organizations have put forth efforts to raise awareness and bring the concern front and center as one of the most important environmental issues we are currently faced with.

Bert Kaufmann

Photo © Bert Kaufmann

With increasing urban growth and development, industrial agriculture, and an abundance of non-native ornamental plants in residential landscapes and gardens, the widespread native environments that once supported a variety of pollinating insects, birds, and mammals are quickly diminishing. Pollution, pesticides, and landscape fragmentation are other factors known to reduce pollinator populations.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Photo © Department of Agriculture

Tips for supporting pollinators

Whether planning or planting for a Pollinator Garden, keep the following factors in mind to ensure better chances of success.

  • Use a wide variety of native plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. These are most beneficial to pollinators because native plants and insects have evolved together, developing specific relationships over time critical to breeding success. Read more…
  • Alan Lorence

    Photo © Alan Lorence
  • Include native larval host plants in your landscape. Many pollinators are very specific about which plants they lay their eggs on. Read more…
  • Eliminate pesticide use. Pesticides directly harm or kill insects, even days after application and can adversely affect birds and other animals that eat insects contaminated by pesticides. Read more…
  • Purchase plants from nurseries that are not sprayed with neonicotinoids. Read labels in plants closely as the language can be deceiving. Read more…
  • Establish a native bee house. You can be specific about the type of bees you want to attract. Read more…
  • Leave sandy or bare earth patches in your yard. Many native bees nest in holes the excavate in the soil. Read more…
  • Leave meadows and grasses un-mowed. Seasonal resources throughout the growing season in meadows and grasses provide food and nesting resources for pollinators, including important host plants for caterpillars. Read More…
  • Do not remove your fall leaves. Many pollinators lay their eggs in leaf litter. Read more….
  • Support organic farmers. They are protecting pollinators with their land management practices. Read more…
  • Include structural diversity. Plants of varying heights, like small trees and shrubs, tall grasses, flowers, rock piles, snags, or logs, will attract a greater diversity of pollinators. Read more…
  • Plant in bunches. A single native plant is nice, but a grouping of plants can provide so much more to pollinators. Include native bunch grasses, flowering shrubs, and perennial herbs and wildflowers to optimize nectar and pollen availability. Read more…

Photo © Stonepocket

A garden promoting a diversity of pollinators contains a variety of flowering plants native to the regionopen_in_new, flowering during the whole growing season. It should also contain the resources needed to promote the life cycle of the pollinator–from egg, to pupa, to adult. The pollinator garden must include habitat that promotes reproduction by protecting offspring and providing food and water. Some pollinators also require very specific habitat features. For instance, bees and butterflies require mud and detrital materials, hummingbirds look for specific flower shapes and bats need flowers that are large and white to facilitate their nocturnal pollinating activities.

There are easy and valuable ways that we, as individuals, can take action to provide habitat for bees, butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds. If you are interested in the many ways to support pollinators in your yard, use our Planning Tool to analyze your habitat map for pollinator habitat. Select the Support Pollinators goal and Habitat Network will provide suggestions to add to existing features.

Add a pollinator garden to your Map


Photo ©

1. Sign into Habitat Network and navigate to your site via the Site Explorer tab. Use the Tool Shed’s second tool to add a habitat to your map
2. The habitat bar will appear on your map. To add a pollinator garden you need to add the habitat called “Non-Woody Plants” and then designate it as a pollinator garden.
3. Choose the Non-Woody Plants habitat and draw it on the map where your pollinator garden is located.
4. To designate the Non- Woody Plants as a pollinator garden you need to use the “info” button on the overview panel.


Photo ©

5. Once you are inside the info window, the panel on the left will help you navigate through the data entering process. It is important to browse through all the tabs in this window, however the “characteristics tab” is where you will assign your non-woody plants habitat as a pollinator garden. Once viewing the characteristics tab, you are asked to answer question about your habitat, including whether or not this habitat is a pollinator garden. To designate this habitat as a pollinator garden set your characteristic to “yes.”

Do you live in IL, IN, IA, ME, MA, MN, OH, VA, WI or Ontario, Canada? If so, consider the role you can play in helping to create habitat for the endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). The USFWS can help.

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