Want to Attract Bees and Butterflies? Keep the Weeds
Don't just wish on a dandelion. Take deliberate steps to help pollinator population.
Unwanted plants in the lawn and garden (a.k.a. weeds) can be a problem, especially if you like things neat, uniform, and pristine, like a baseball field. But many of these plants do a great job at supporting area pollinators, including bees, butterflies and other insects. If you (or your Homeowner’s Association) insist on your front lawn being completely weed free, find another place on your property where the good weeds can have their space, whether it’s as a cover crop, along a fence row, or by creating a pollinator garden. Bee, butterfly, and bat populations are facing alarming declines worldwide, which is a scary thought, considering that the majority of the crops we eat rely on these pollinators. Be a good neighbor to struggling pollinators and follow these tips to keep a healthy supply of the good plants and weeds around.
Adopt a Hands-Off Approach
Is getting that “yard-of-the-month” award from your local newspaper really that important? Instead of obsessing over perfectly planted flower beds and weed-free lawns, think of your garden as a habitat for wildlife. Don’t weed out the natural greenery, such as the lush clover and whimsical dandelions you loved as a child - just let it go! No need to completely wipe a plot clean just to make a new garden bed - leave some wild spaces as they are.
Keep it Local
Native plants match the needs of nearby pollinators. On the other hand, those modern hybrids you find at big-box nurseries may have pollen, nectar, and even scent bred out of them. Talk to respected gardeners in your area or check in with your county extension agent to learn about your local climate, types of soil, and which plants will work best in your yard.
Give Pollinators an Interesting Mix
You would get bored eating the same thing every day, right? To please all the bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds, choose plants of different shapes and colors that will bloom from early spring until late fall. Plant in clumps, rather than individual flowers or plants, or group potted plants together -this will make it easier for flying pollinators to find the source of nourishment. If you find that some of your plants are being used as host plants, don’t fret – just keep one plant for the caterpillars, and one for you. Remember the caterpillars turn into colorful butterflies. Don’t forget night-blooming flowers for bats. While bats mainly pollinate plants in desert climates they are useful everywhere because they eat pesky insects, including crop pests.
One big reason for the decline in the Monarch butterfly population is the nationwide loss of milkweed crops—the Monarchs' only food source and the plant on which they lay their eggs. Do your part to help this colorful butterfly by planting milkweed from seeds or cuttings.
These tiny creatures need an abundance of nourishment so they can make their way South in the winter. Plant an abundance of flowers that bloom late in the summer and early fall, and keep your feeders filled with fresh nectar.
Remember that pollinators need a source of water. If you already have a birdbath, then good for you. A shallow dish will also do nicely, just provide some pebbles or rocks as “islands” in the dish, so the bees and butterflies won’t drown. Standing water will also attract mosquitos, so make sure you empty and refill the water dishes frequently.