We All Should Plant A Pollination Garden!

Butterfly Gardens are quite popular these days. But we suggest that Pollinator Gardens, which include Butterfly-friendly plants, are even more important. It’s safe to say that your beautiful flowering plants as well as those delicious fruits & vegetables you enjoy depend on successful pollination!

Before we go too far and you think, “Not another garden to care for!”, let us clarify. A Pollinator Garden can be as simple as a small clump of flowers in your current garden or flower bed, a flower box on your balcony or a larger plot dedicated to pollination. Start small… but start!

Why consider pollinating plants?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 75% of staple crops and 80% of flowering plants depend on pollinators. Worldwide, 35% of food crops depend on pollinators. Locally in Florida, bees are responsible for the pollination of watermelon, cucumber, avocados, citrus, sugarcane, strawberries and blueberries. And as important as they are, native pollinators are declining due to the loss of habitat, parasites, pesticides and disease.

Pollinators in Florida

The list of common pollinators in Florida begins with bees and butterflies. Popular bees include Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees and Sweat Bees (though there over 300 species in Florida). Our state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing, and the renowned Monarch, are just two of the 180 species of butterflies calling Florida home.

Beetles, flies, birds (including hummingbirds), moths and even bats are also important pollinators. The Ruby Throated Hummingbird is a favorite. 

Florida’s Leading Pollinating Plants

There are countless plants that attract pollinators, including many wildflowers. Ideally, choose native plants whenever possible, as native plants will attract native pollinators. If nonnative plants are included, make sure they are noninvasive. And for maximum benefit to pollinators, plant in the sun. That’s especially important to butterflies, as adults normally feed only in sunlight.

Additionally, plan your choices to include at least three flowering species per season (i.e., spring, summer and fall). Importantly and to appeal to the multitude of pollinators, vary your plants by size, color and even shape.

Along with native plants, include herbs and heritage plants (i.e., those continuously grown in Florida for at least 50 years) as well. However, avoid cultivars, double petaled plants or any other altered flowers as they can cause confusion to the pollinators, thereby missing them entirely in the garden.

We’ve included a selection of Florida plants and herbs commonly favored by pollinators. Note, however, the list is not comprehensive given the vast number of desirable plants available.

Popular pollinator-attracting flowers include:

  • American Beautyberry, blooms in early summer followed by berries through fall
  • Aquatic Milkweed, star-shaped blooms spring to late fall
  • Aster, blooms late summer to fall w/purple, blue, pink & white colors and loved by bees
  • Black-Eyed Susan, a full sun wildflower loved by bees and butterflies
  • Butterfly Bush, features white, blue or purple flowers loved by butterflies
  • Butterfly Weed, red to orangish and host to Queen, Monarch and Soldier larvae
  • Button Bush, loved by butterflies, beneficial summer through fall
  • Cannas, add bold pink, orange, red & yellow color to gardens
  • Coral Honeysuckle, vine with spring and summer blooms of bright red & yellow
  • Gaillardia, bright flowers that bloom from summer through fall
  • Goldenrod, attracting both bees & butterflies w/late summer to early fall blooms
  • Hardy Hibiscus, beautiful rose-pink blooms mid-summer to fall
  • Marigolds, a Bumblebee’s summer favorite featuring yellows and flowers
  • Monarda (Bee Balm), nectar attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees
  • Nasturtiums, feature red, orange or yellow flowers
  • Passion Flower, a vine offering large purple, lavender or white flowers
  • Penstemon or Beardtongues, in multiple colors and a honeybee favorite
  • Pentas, a butterfly favorite of reds, pinks and purples
  • Purple Coneflower, a purple native perennial (colors vary for non-native varieties)
  • Sedum (succulent), a long blooming plant loved by butterflies and bees
  • Sunflowers, a Florida favorite of both gardeners and pollinators
  • Zinnia, make ideal annuals for attracting butterflies

Common pollinator-attracting herbs include:

  • Basil, includes African blue basil (a favorite of pollinators)
  • Borage, loved by bumble bees for its blue star-shaped flowers
  • Cilantro, especially liked by bees and insects
  • Mint, ideal for Florida’s hot and humid weather
  • Oregano, loved by pollinators
  • Rosemary, easy to grow
  • Salvias, loved by bees, hummingbirds and butterflies alike

Action Steps to Help Pollinators

There are some simple things we can all do to help our pollinators.

Even though we all strive for that perfect yard, consider leaving some bare ground where possible for nesting bees. And leave dead foliage, brush and other organic matter for bees to use for shelter. Likewise, allow fallen fruit to remain on the ground as food for some pollinators, including adult butterflies.

Allow plants to go to seed, or bolt. Though not the intended result, bolting plants will attract more pollinators and give them an added food supply. Avoid the urge to pull it!

We admit it, some of us may have a fear of bats. But in reality, they are an important pollinator worthy of protection. Consider buying or building a bat box that can provide a safe environment for the female to raiser her one pup she has per year. You may even grow to like them!

The improper use of pesticides is a leading factor in the loss of pollinators. Fortunately, there are some RoundUp alternatives to consider. Dig the weeds up by the root, thereby removing it entirely. Mulching the area will block the weeds of needed sunlight and suffocate them under the mulch. Additionally, Corn Gluten Meal is known to kill grass weeds and broadleaf weeds. Organic vinegar that’s free from glyphosate (or vinegars made from cider or wine) will also kill weeds. And finally, iron-based weed killers approved by the EPA are also available.

As previously mentioned, Florida has over 300 species of bees, 10% of those being unique to our state. Attract more bees to your garden by planting their favorite colors… blue, yellow, white and purple flowers. Likewise, add a bee box that can used as a “hive.” And consider a shallow bird bath to provide drinking water for bees.

There are countless websites, organizations and clubs that are dedicated to restoring our native pollinators. Check online for local groups in which you can learn more about pollinators, pollinating plants and how you can do your part to help maintain nature’s balance!

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