Blooms for bees, birds and butterflies: Here’s how to create a colorful, pollinator-friendly garden
WOODSTOCK – When Stacey Morgan Smith, a Northern Shenandoah Valley master gardener, moved to the valley, her passion for gardening was limited mostly to herbs until she moved into her quaint country home that had a blooming pollinator garden.
The beauty and vibrancy of her newly acquired garden allowed her to discover the importance of pollinator gardens and the role they play in the environment.
“My late neighbor, who was also a member of the Master Gardeners, taught me everything I know about this garden,” Smith said. “She was just one of those individuals who had so much knowledge that she shared it with everyone she could.”
Already laid out in design and concept, Smith incorporated her own flowers and prides herself on its beauty and lack of structure.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to my garden,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a vast array of everything I love and then some.”
An accountant by day, Smith jokes that her job is the only thing structured about her life. Her garden, for instance, is organized chaos. Something she said she doesn’t mind.
“If there’s an empty spot, I fill it,” she said. “After all, my garden is so much more. It fills an environmental purpose that more people should be aware of.”
Pollinator gardens are critical in creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many insects and animals rely on for survival. By planting and maintaining a pollinator garden, Smith said, gardeners encourage a pollinator habitat that not only adds great color to the yard but attracts honeybees, butterflies and other insects, along with moths, hummingbirds and even bats, which are beneficial to the pollination process.
“Butterflies tend to like pink, orange and purple petals, while bees are enticed by blue, white and yellow flowers,” she said. “The more color, the more variety of species your garden will attract.”
To maintain its structure, Smith said she pays close attention to the flowers she plants within their first year of development. She said she doesn’t want to keep something if the insects aren’t attracted to its color or smell.
“In the end, pollinators are here to help make our environment as abundant as possible,” she said. “As master gardeners, our goal is to encourage local gardeners, no matter how green their thumb may be to plant pollinator gardens.”
Gardeners and environmentalists understand the importance of pollinator gardens far more than most. The number of monarch butterflies, for example, are dwindling due to the destruction of native plants like milkweed and climate change. By planting pollinator gardens, insets like monarch butterflies are given a better chance at survival before they migrate south for the winter.
“I think that’s the one thing I can’t stress enough about being a master gardener,” Smith said. “We’re here to educate homeowners with their home gardening questions by providing unbiased, research-based solutions. Our volunteer-based program really allows homeowners to know that they have somewhere to go for reliable information as we continue our own education training each year.”
Smith said she became a master gardener to do just that, help people. She said she’s also had the opportunity to meet people with similar interests while making friends all over the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
POLLINATOR GARDEN TIPS
- Provide shelter, food and water.
- Plant close together to provide butterflies and caterpillars shelter from predators and weather.
- Choose nectar sources for butterflies that should bloom from spring until fall. Early season bloomers include penstemon, gaillardia and common milkweed. Midseason bloomers include coneflower, wingstem and phlox. Late season bloomers include goldenrod, asters and black-eyed Susans. Bloom times vary by area and elevation.
- Use host plants for caterpillars and expect plants have will get some holes. Plant common, swamp, butterfly or whorled milkweed, violets, fritillaries, golden alexanders, spicebush, and pawpaw.
- Provide water with shallow dishes of pebbles and water for bees.
- Provide puddling area for butterflies by using shallow dishes of sand and or compost mix. Water daily.
- Add large rocks for butterflies to sit on for warmth.
- Use native plants when possible.
- Plant in groups.
- Allow some flowers to go to seed to encourage self-seeding.
- Allow seedheads to stay up through winter. Some birds will even eat the seeds.
- Do not use pesticides in our near the garden.