With a noticeable decline in imported honey bee and native pollinator populations, there is an interest in gardening to support these insects. While native plants are a better choice for native pollinators, any good source of nectar and pollen will help attract pollinators. The benefit of using native plants is their durability in the New England landscape.
When choosing plants for pollinators, consider the species that are visiting your property already and choose plants for their seasonal or year- long activities. Observe those pollinators that are in your area but maybe not visiting your property, and then choose plants that may attract them during their foraging seasons.
One of our early native pollinators is the Colletes inaequalis, also called the polyester bee. These handsome, small, ground- nesting bees can be active as early as March and prefer large sunny areas that have sandy soils. They are important pollinators of early blooming native plants. Females forage for both pollen and nectar which they put in a neat little “plastic” bag deep in a tunnel that they make in spring. The egg is laid in the bag aid above the semi-liquid mix, and the larva will feed on that until pupating. Next spring the new adults will emerge
There are many species of bumblebees here in Connecticut. Native bumblebees hibernate every year only as queens and every year they must establish a new colony, which will work to support the new queens born that year. Because of the long foraging period of bumblebees- early spring through early fall- provide season –long nectar and pollen sources in the garden or landscape. In the wild, bumblebees visit early blooming maples, dandelions and blueberry. Later on they visit Joe-pye weed, goldenrods, boneset, asters and other late-season native bloomers. They are of a more hardy lot that many other bees, so they are found out and about on chilly, windy days, even during periods of rain. Bumblebees “cheat” when obtaining nectar from some flowers, such as salvia. Short-tongued bees will cut a hole at the base of the flower to obtain nectar on long tubular flowers.
Sphinx moths are also native pollinators and are considered the most efficient of moth pollinators. While some fly during the day, many fly at dusk and during the night. These hawkmoths pollinate many plants with their exceptionally long proboscis including catalpa and horse chestnut. If you know these pollinators are in your area, plant corresponding larval host plants for the caterpillars. Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are both a good nectar source for the moth and a host plant for two clearwing moth caterpillars.
There are many beetles as well as flies that pollinate flowers. While beetles may chew on flower parts as well as pollen, they still pollinate many flowers, especially goldenrods, pawpaw and daisies. Flies are attracted to flowers that smell like carrion- pawpaw, skunk cabbage and trillium among others. Little flower flies- syrphids- visit many native wildflowers. They are often confused with wasps because of their body shape and coloring.
Crabapples are a good source on both nectar and pollen for many pollinators, including beetles, flies and butterflies. Migrating spring butterflies can be found nectaring on crabapple blossoms, and ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive in time to nectar on the blossoms. Willows are early spring bloomers that attract a variety of pollinators- flies, beetles, bees and others and are host plants for several butterflies including the Mourning cloak and Viceroy.
An excellent draw for pollinators are native cherries- black, pin and choke species. Not only bees are found on the flowers. Butterflies are strongly attracted to native cherry blossoms, and several, such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail will Lay eggs on the leaves of smaller cherry trees.
One of the best plants to attract bees is the Giant Blue Hyssop Agastache foeniculum. This long- season bloomer attracts native and non- native bees and has an attractive aroma as a bonus. Include long-season bloomers like alyssum, coneflowers (Echinacea), Lantana, Cosmos, Heliotrope, Buddleia and clovers. Late summer flowers such as goldenrods, Joe-pye, boneset, Stonecrop sedum, Queen Anne’s lace, Caryopteris, Salvia , and petunias will provide food for migrating butterflies bumblebee queens, and many other insects. Allium flowers are a wonderful attractant for all types of pollinators. And don’t forget milkweeds. Whether native or non-native, a good nectar source will not go unnoticed. Double-flowered varieties are usually bred for the flower at the expense of pollen and nectar, so avoid these plants in a pollinator garden.
The following link is an excellent source of plants suitable for Connecticut’s native pollinator.
Happy gardening! And may pollinators increase in both their populations and their good works in the wild and in the residential landscape.
Pamm Cooper All photos copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper