— Nan Sterman
(Continued from last week’s blog)
How to attract pollinators to your garden
Water, habitat and food are the basics for attracting pollinators into your garden.
Water Offer pollinators a constant drip or a shallow dish of water or water in a birdbath. Add a rock or two for bees to stand on while they drink, otherwise, they can fall in and drown.
Food Plant a wide variety of plants with flowers in different shapes, colors, and bloom seasons. Make native plants the priority and make sure the garden will have blooms from early spring until October or November.
Habitat Pollinators need protection from predators and the elements, places to lay their eggs, raise their young, and so on. Different kinds of pollinators prefer different kinds of habitats.
Pollinator Plants and Habitats
Bee habitats range from a hole in a piece of wood to a soft, dry spot to burrow into the ground and even mud nearby, depending on the type of bee. The greater the variety of habitats in the garden, the wider the variety of bees it attracts. In terms of flowers, bees look for those that are wide and flat enough to serve as a landing pad, and bright white, yellow or blue. Flowers that attract bees include plant desert mallow (Abutilon palmeri) calendula, Ceanothus, blanket flower (Gaillardia), sunflowers, monkeyflower (Mimulus), coast prickly pear (Opuntia), sages, and many others.
Hummingbirds are best attracted by flowers that are bright red, orange, or white, and shaped like long tubes to fit hummers’ long, narrow beaks. Sages, fuchsia, wisteria, coastal prickly pear (Opuntia), manzanita, and native hummingbird trumpet (Epilobium) are just a few hummingbird attracting flowering plants. Hummingbirds build their tiny nests along branches or in the crotches of shrubs, often at eye level.
Butterflies are so varied that each type has its preferred plants, some for the adult butterflies and others for the larval form that we know as caterpillars. Caterpillars of the black and pale yellow western tiger swallowtail butterfly, for example, eat the leaves of California sycamore and willow trees. Young caterpillars look like pieces of bird poop. As those caterpillars molt, they go through several stages, including one when they turn bright green and feature a pair of yellow and black dots that make them look like cartoon characters.
Monarch butterfly adults are attracted to Asclepias butterfly weeds. The adults sip nectar from the flowers and lay their eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch, the larval caterpillars devour the leaves. Tropical butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa is one of the most popular butterfly weeds but they are also attracted to native milkweeds including Asclepias fascicularis, narrow leave butterfly weed and Asclepias speciosa, showy milkweed.
Moths look for plants with tubular, pale colored flowers that are fragrant from afternoon through early morning. Attract moths by planting yuccas, Baja fairy duster, honeysuckle, and native moonflower.
Bats visit the bowl-shaped pale dull yellow, white or pale green flowers of agave, cacti, banana, avocado, and other plants, that are open at night. They also help keep down populations of mosquitos and other insects that are active at dusk. Attract bats to your garden by mounting a bat house high on a tree, on a building, or on a pole, 15 to 20 feet above the ground to protect them from predators.
Flies, yes, flies are pollinators. Compared to bees, flies are active at both colder and hotter temperatures and are less picky about the kinds of flowers they visit. They are more frenetic about their flower visits too, so they tend to pollenate many flowers in a short period of time. It isn’t hard to attract flies to the garden. They are lured by putrid smells, flowers that are pale or purple or brown, and funnel shaped. If you’ve ever grown a Stapelia, the carrion flower, you know the flower style and odors that attract flies. Smelly or not, what’s important is treating flies like the valuable pollinators they are.
Lastly, don’t use pesticides in your garden. Pesticides can kill the pollinators, especially the insect pollinators, you’ve worked so hard to attract.