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Tips to Create Pollinator Gardens

Last Saturday, we had a great time with speaker Harvey Cotten who came to give a discussion on creating pollinating gardens. Mr. Cotten is the author of Easy Gardens for the South, as well as former Vice President of Horticulture and Education at Huntsville Botanical Gardens. In case you weren’t able to make it, below is a synopsis of what he talked about! And we’d love for you to make it to our next class, this Saturday at 1pm (more info about this below!)!


-Many pollinator populations are on the decline. Common pollinators seen in our area include butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

-Pollination is important to us because many of the items we consume must be pollinated first before they grow, such as blueberries, strawberries, peaches, apples, chocolate, coffee, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila.

-Heavy use of insecticides is one reason for pollinator population decreasing. It was suggested to use natural forms of insecticide such as, for example: spraying a mixture of Dawn dishwashing soap and water on your roses to get rid of Japanese beetles, verses a concentrated chemical. That way bees can still pollinate the roses without being harmed. If a pesticide is required, follow the directions on the bottle specifically for the sake of your plants and butterflies/ etc.

– Harvey told us about and their Million Pollinator Garden challenge they have begun. The goal is to have 1 million gardens registered with them as pollinator friendly gardens over the next two years. One of the cool things about this is that any size garden can be registered- including small gardens that consists of two window boxes or a large community garden. Their mission (in their words) is: “We will move millions of individuals, kids and families outdoors and make a connection between pollinators and the healthy food people eat.” An awesome website to check out!

Next Harvey told us about how to attract pollinators to our gardens. He took us on a guided tour of the nursery and showed us different plants that pollinators are particularly attracted to and why.

-Some things that attract bees and butterflies to our gardens:

  • Lots of nectar sources that bloom over time in a sunny location

  • Water source, a birdbath is perfect or even rocks that stay wet after a rain- butterflies will get enough water off of them.

  • Again, trying not to use pesticides unless absolutely necessary.

  • Shelter for the bees and butterflies. They need places to go where they feel safe away from birds and other animals that will eat them. Such places would include evergreens, conifers, and other plants.

  • Butterflies do best when they have host plants as well as nectar plants. Host plants are where a butterfly will lay its eggs. Then when the baby caterpillars are born, they will eat off of that host plant. Such plants include milkweed, fennel, and parsley. Butterflies only live 2-3 weeks once they have metamorphosed, so having host plants in your garden will benefit you and them as they live their entirety of life in your landscape.

As Harvey walked around the nursery with us, he mentioned several plants in particular that bees and butterflies are attracted to and pollinate.

  • Hellebores (Lenten Roses): blooms late Winter, early Spring; attracts early bees looking for nectar sources

  • Herbs: Rosemary, Lavender, Oregano, Sage

  • Blueberry bushes: bees pollinate and that will make blueberries grow

  • Lantana: Summer bloomer that butterflies love

  • Redbuds and Crabapple trees: great bee pollinator

  • Red Maples and Hollies: bees love these too

  • Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon) and Lilacs: butterfly and bee attractor

  • ‘Husker Red’ Penstimum: a perennial that produces a spikey white flower in Summer that hummingbirds and butterflies love.

  • Shasta Daisy: bees and butterflies both love

  • Black Eyed Susan and Purple Coneflower: Mr.Cotten said he puts this flower and Black Eyed Susans in almost every garden he designs.

  • Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’: paired with bright red Knock Out Roses is a great combination

  • Joe Pye Weed: Monarch butterflies love it in mid/late Summer

  • Butterfly bushes: butterflies and hummingbirds love

  • Camellias: for better tolerance, pick early blooming or late blooming varieties

A few other fun tips Harvey gave:

  • Pollinator gardens need layers. Things blooming at different times. It adds to interest and also will greatly add to the number of pollinators you see in your yard.

  • Carpenter bees do pollinate, but not as much as honey bees and bumble bees.

  • Bees need a “landing pad” on a flower, but hummingbirds and butterflies prefer tubular shaped flowers.

  • Many new varieties of flowers have double blooms, but bees and butterflies cannot get to the nectar. Double blooms are gorgeous, but also have a variety of single blooms in your garden for the pollinators. Example of double bloom (pink Camellia- the pollinator cannot get into the bloom) and single bloom below (red Camellia-you can see the pollen):

  • Hummingbirds will go to any color, but bees do not see the color red very well, so to attract more hummingbirds and less bees, use red.

  • Bees will travel between 1-3 miles to pollinate.

Harvey’s book is available here at our Garden Center, and it is one that we highly recommend. He has also recommended a children’s book for your young little gardeners called Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy.

We’d love for you to come to any of our other complimentary classes we are offering this Spring. Classes last approximately an hour/ hour and a half and no sign-up is necessary. This is an impressive lineup of speakers coming to share with us! Be inspired! Come have fun learning more about plant care and landscaping with other local homeowners in this area!

  • Saturday, April 9th @1pm: Barbara Wise (author of Container Gardening for All Seasons), Book signing and Discussion on Gorgeous Container Pots

  • Saturday, April 16th @1pm: Cindy Shapton (author of The Cracked Pot Herb Book), Discussion on Kitchen Garden Containers

  • Saturday, April 23rd @1pm: Ron Daniels (Master Consulting Rosarian for Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville & featured gardener on NPT’s “Volunteer Gardener”), Rose Discussion


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