Creating A Pollinator Garden

Pollinators are animals or insects that move pollen from one flower to another, and they are essential to plant reproduction. In fact, 80% of our food crops are pollinated by insects or animals. Without pollinators, humans and all of Earth’s ecosystems would not survive.

However, many pollinators are in decline. Alarming populations of bee species are in danger of extinction and 450 butterfly populations have steadily dropped 2% each year over the last 40 years. The two most common reasons for this decline are habitat loss and toxic pesticides.

Creating your own pollinator garden is essential to supporting pollinators and ultimately our own survival. By doing your part to ensure pollinators’ survival, you also benefit your garden. Here are several reasons why they can help you!

  • Edibles require pollination, such as fruit trees, vegetables, etc. Planting pollinator plants in your garden will bring valuable pollinators to do their magic on your own edibles.
  • A healthy garden with the appropriate plant species and an abundance of pollinators will support natural beneficial insects—reducing the need for pest control.

Considerations when Encouraging Pollinators in Your Garden

Space Requirements

When encouraging pollinators in your garden, there are a few, such as space requirements for plants, food sources, water sources, shelter, cultural practices, and chemicals.

You can start with small spaces like a patio or balcony with container plantings or unlimited sizes from small to large yards. You can even create an entire garden just for pollinators, tuck in small pollinator plants where you can in existing gardens, or plant trees and shrubs that are pollinator-friendly and space-appropriate for your garden.

Food Sources

When choosing food sources, you can choose between native and non-native plants. Natives support native wildlife and are usually preferred, but many non-native plants are also excellent pollinators.

Here are some plant species to consider for your Southeast Georgia pollinator garden:

Natives

Perennials: Echinacea, Monarda, Rudbeckia, Speedwell Lobelia, Baptisia, St. John’s Wort, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hibiscus roselle, coral honeysuckle, MILKWEED – Swamp/Native.  (not Mexican or tropical)

Trees: Eastern Redbud, Tulip Poplar, Magnolia, Yaupon Holly
Shrubs: Aronia melanocarpa, Elderberry, American Beautyberry, Fothergilla, Viburnum densa
Grasses: Muhly Grass

Non-Natives
Perennials: Lantana, Buddleia, Chaste Vitex, Salvia, Cigar Plant, Firecracker Plant, Dandelion, Mints, Clover (White Dutch Clover and Crimson Clover are two that are great for our climate)Shrubs: Ornamental Camellias, Camellia sinensis Tea Plants
Trees: Mulberry (Morus nigra), Crape Myrtle, Drake Elm, Holly Trees
Grasses: Fountain Grass

A Word On Invasive Species

Invasive plants are plants that are usually not native to our area and multiply readily and often, resulting in taking over spaces normally occupied by native plants.  Examples of invasive plants include Kudzu, Mimosa, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese privet, Cherokee Rose, Seven Sister’s Rose, Chinese Tallow aka Popcorn Tree, and Paulonia-Princess Tree. 

Water Sources

greatly enjoy a clean drink of water which can be provided by ponds, water fountains, or even by hand-made water sources. Simple water sources can be made by taking a plant saucer, filling it with pebbles, and adding fresh water.

Shelter & Cultural Practices

Shrubs and trees offer protection for pollinator insects. Many will rest in the leaves of trees and bushes out of the sun and elements. Pollinators also need protection for overwintering, so instead of cleaning up your gardens in the fall, wait until late spring. Perennials and grasses left standing will provide shelter.

Many pollinators lay eggs on plants, so don’t be too quick to cut back damaged plants in the spring to allow time for them to hatch. Move plant stems and other yard waste into an out-of-sight pile if you can’t take the mess. Pollinators will emerge in spring. Consider adding Clover to your garden where you don’t have grass. White Dutch Clover or Red Crimson Clover are excellent choices for southern climates. Clover returns nitrogen to the soil and is an excellent food source for pollinators.

Chemicals

The use and misuse of harmful chemicals cause a decline in beneficial insects. If you must use any chemical, do it wisely.  Always read the labels, and know what dangers the chemicals cause if any to beneficial insects and to you.  Before you apply any chemical,  read the following considerations…

1. Correctly Identify The Problem

Part of the huge problem of chemical misuse is using a chemical, whether it is an herbicide, fungicide, or insecticide for an incorrect diagnosis.  I can’t tell you how many times we have read posts on social media garden groups with self-proclaimed garden experts giving folks wrong information about a plant problem.  This results in using a chemical, whether it’s organic or not, for the wrong reason.  When identifying a problem it’s best to go to a professional who deals with this sort of thing.  Contact your county extension agents, or better yet, a professional grower for advice and correct identification.

2.  What are the pros and cons of using this product? 

Weigh out the good, the bad, and the ugly before cracking the bottle on any chemical.  Determine the best course of action before applying any chemical.

3.  What methods of control are available? 

Always use organic as your first go-to for the need to control.  But just because the label says “Organic” doesn’t mean it’s safe for all pollinators.   Pyrethrins are pesticides found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers. They are a mixture of six chemicals that are toxic to insects and in some products are labeled safe for the ‘organic garden’.  However, most Pyrethrins are highly toxic to bees.  So investigate all methods of control to see what is safe and what is not.

Natural Remedies for common problems. 

Oil Sprays

Oil sprays like All-Seasons Horticultural Oil and Neem Oil are excellent choices for many insects like aphids, mites, and scales and shouldn’t harm plants.  Sometimes oil sprays can be an issue if it’s very hot or cold, so make sure the outdoor temperature is below 90 and above 45.  Also don’t apply in the full sun.  We like to spray early morning while the temps are low and the sun is not at its hottest.

Diatomaceous Earth

Ants, fleas, ticks, spiders, and slugs can be eliminated using Diatomaceous Earth, a great natural product that is fossilized diatoms and is like microscopic broken shards of glass. The slivers cut into the exoskeletons of soft-bodied insects and cause dehydration and death, yet it is safe enough to eat.

Weed Control

For weeds, prevention is worth a ton of cure. Use adequate natural mulch, not synthetic, to keep weeds down and eliminate the need for chemical control. Use organic weed control if necessary.

 

Encourage Beneficial Insects & Plants

Many times we can create our own little ecosystem in the garden by supplying all of the necessary components.  Instead of grabbing a spray bottle for a pest, find out what beneficial insects can be attracted to our garden that would take care of the problems. Lady Bugs, Praying Mantis, Dragonfly, and many other insects eat aphids!  Determine your pest, then search for beneficial insects that can take care of them for you!

Also, find out what is not appealing to certain insects.  For example, Aphids don’t like the herbs like aromatic plants and herbs like marigolds, catnip, dill, fennel, and peppermint.  They will make great companion plants for plants you are trying to protect.

Creating your own pollinator garden may seem like a small task, but it is a significant step toward supporting and conserving pollinators. By using the guidelines mentioned above.