How to Plant a Pollinator Garden
Pollinators perform a valuable service for agriculture, horticulture, and ecosystem health but there is growing concern about their long-term health. Despite immense economic and environmental value, pollinating insect species are facing serious threats to their health and their continued existence due to insecticides, loss of habitat, extreme weather, parasites and disease, and other factors that have caused their dramatic decline.
Pollinators are declining rapidly: wild bee species by over 50 percent, Monarch butterflies by over 90 percent, honeybee colonies by over 50 percent per year, clearly an unsustainable trend. Scientists believe some bumblebees may already be extinct The rusty-patched bumblebee once found commonly in Maryland was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2017.
The landscape is changing rapidly. Impervious and paved land has increased dramatically; there are fewer orchards and gardens, and fewer native wildflowers and beneficial plants for pollinators. Increased use of pesticides, fungicides, and other compounds may be devastating to pollinator species.
What Can be Done to Save Our Pollinators?
Help our threatened pollinators by planting pollinator gardens. From a mini-garden in large pots to gardens in the yard and large habitat areas in agricultural fields, around field edges can make a difference. Gardens are important, bring a deep sense of satisfaction and attract Hummingbirds, song birds, and other wildlife. Follow simple steps:—prepare soil, choose seeds and plants, plant according to simple plan, sit back, enjoy-watch nature at work.
What to Plant and Where
Plant pollinator gardens where there is sun for most of the day.Till the soil, add weed free compost and use fertilizer only sparing.Plant a mix of perennials, as the foundation, annual species and herbs that provide blooms and nectar throughout the entire growing season, from early April through early November. A good garden has native perennials at its core.
Some good perennial choices are:
· Milkweeds – (Asclepius sp.)- Hardy wildflower w/ fragrant flowers. Supports 12 native caterpillar species. Critical for monarchs. Will grow almost anywhere.
Clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) ) – 10 weeks of peak bloom. Best overall plant for attracting pollinators.
Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) –One of best nectar source for pollinators. Supports 7 native caterpillar species.
Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) – Supports 122 native caterpillar species.
Asters – Supports 109 native caterpillars. Provides essential nectar resources.
Joe-pye weed – (Eupatorium sp.) -Supports 40 native caterpillars species. Attracts pollinators
Annuals provide a wide palette of color in pollinator gardens:
Partidge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) – Supports 7 native caterpillar species. Improves soil.
Common, native Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) – Supports 73 native caterpillars. Provides nectar.
Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) –Favorite nectar resource for bees.
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) – Butterfly magnet, nectar-packed.
Lantana – Long blooming nectar resource, a butterfly and hummingbird favorite
Scarlet sage, (Salvia coccinea) – bright red, hummingbird and butterfly magnet
We have a long growing season in Southern Maryland and there is a wide variety of pollinator-friendly plants to choose from. Flowering native trees are very important for pollinators as well as wildflowers. Include them in larger pollinator habitat if there is room for both trees and flowers. Native tulip poplar, cherries and redbuds are especially valuable for butterflies and moths.
Try to involve children in planting, maintaining and observing your pollinator garde.
Enjoy your Southern Maryland pollinator garden! You will be directly helping important species in need and you will be amazed at the amount of enjoyment you receive.
Thanks to Michael Ellis, Non-native Invasive Plant Management Coordinator, MNCPP
Rich Dolesh is a board member of the Black Swamp Creek Land Trust. He was former division chief of the Natural and Historical Resources Division of MNCPPC and currently is a VP of the National Recreation and Park Association.