Planting for Pollinators
Pollinator gardening tips to consider when planting your 10ft by 10ft space
A diverse selection of plants, with a variety of “colors, sizes, shapes, heights, and growth habits” attracts a diverse selection of pollinators (The Xerces Society). While generalists, such as common honey bees, forage from a wide variety of plants, other specialist pollinators rely on specific plants with unique colors and structures. Hummingbirds, for example, prefer long stalk flowers, while certain species of bumblebee prefer large flowers with easily accessible pollen.
Epilobium canum sp. “California Fuschia”
A favorite of hummingbirds
Like selecting plants with a range of bloom times, planting flower clusters or “clump-planting,” attracts a greater number of pollinators to yards. The UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab recommends planting flowers in clumps at least 3’ x 3’ per plant type.
A cluster of asters (Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’) with the capacity to attract
a range of pollinators. Photo: UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab
The cultivation of native plants specific to a yard’s region attracts native wildlife and creates healthier habitat. Native plants evolved with native pollinators, therefore the two work in unison to prevent disease, and even fire. Due to California’s drier climate, most native plants are drought and fire-resistant. This makes native plants great options for the creation of both beneficial habitat and defensible space. On top of this, native plants require lower input, but yield a higher crop output. You can find both a list of seasonal pollinator-friendly native plants and a list of native plant nurseries on our website.
Areas with little to no flowers are non-friendly to pollinators. Additionally areas that contain pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, or other environmental pollutants poison beneficial pollinators and spread toxic chemicals around neighborhoods. Another big component that creates unhealthy pollinator zones is over-maintenance such as over-pruning and over-using mulch. Over-maintenance can lead to habitat diminishment. For instance, over-trimmed hedges and excessive mulch use may limit the number of nesting sites available for birds, and too many deadheaded flowers cut food supply short for pollinators
Additional gardening tips include leaving leaf litter on the ground, choosing a good soil, implementing cover crops, planting seeds at the right time, and replacing invasive species with native species. Leaving areas in your yard without mulch (bark), and keeping leaf litter on the ground preserves nesting sites for native bees and other beneficial insects.
Ground nesting bee / Photo: Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund
Choosing the right soil requires one consultation with a member at a nursery. It is important to replace old soil you don’t know about with new soil since old, mysterious soil might contain poisonous residues or invasive seeds. We highly encourage mixing soil with compost or a soil booster. Fertilizer is helpful too, but only when spread around the top of soil and not directly on plant roots or stems.
Implementing cover crops into your gardening routine also enhances soil health. Cover crops, such as clovers, phacelias, alfalfa, and faba beans, fix nitrogen in the soil and aid with weed control. They also provide food sources and habitat for pollinators. We recommend researching native cover crops in your area. In California these include phacelia, pinpoint clover, and tomcat clover.
Honey bee foraging on Trifolium willdenovii sp. “tomcat clover”
We generally recommend minimizing your inputs, such as water, and maximizing outputs. Pay attention to the time of year you are putting seeds in the ground. It is best to plant in fall, late winter, or early spring. This way seeds are in the ground before the rains come, giving them time to propagate.
Perhaps the best way to start your 10x10+10 journey is by identifying which plants are native to your region and which plants are invasive. Here are a few invasive species common to California we would like to shed light on:
Buddleja davidii sp. (butterfly bush) has a deceptive name
Butterfly bush is a deceptive plant because it seems as if it would be an incredible source for pollinators. While butterfly bush attracts butterflies, it also interferes with California’s natural ecosystem. Butterfly Bush is native to China with seeds that disperse in late autumn or early winter.
Foeniculum vulgare sp. (sweet fennel)
While birds enjoy fennel seeds, replacing it with a native plant birds love is always the better choice. Fennel spreads rapidly and disturbs the “composition and structure of many plant communities including grasslands, coastal scrub, riparian, and wetland communities” (UC Master Gardeners). Visit UC Marin Master Gardeners page—
www.cal-ipc.org—to identify more invasive plants.
A range of flowers with different bloom periods also enhances pollinator flourishing. Some pollinator-friendly plants, like California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) are the first to bloom in early spring, whereas California coneflower (Rudbeckia californica) blooms in mid-summer, and California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) blooms in the fall. In winter, when there are less plants for pollinators to forage from, manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) flowers play an important role in providing sustenance. When evaluating what to plant in yards, a special emphasis should be placed on early and late blooming plants, as these plants act as bridges for pollinators emerging from winter hibernation or entering winter dormancy.