Establishing a Pollinator Garden or Planting

DESIGN | SITE PREP | INSTALLATION | MAINTENANCE | EXISTING SPACE | FURTHER READING

Photo by Aaron Clausen

The decisions you make throughout the planning process and beyond will have an effect on the pollinators you are hoping to benefit. By planning effectively and maintaining the planting area, you can create healthy habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects of all kinds.

Design

When designing your pollinator planting, take into consideration the conditions of the planting site. How many hours of sunlight does it receive? How much moisture does it get? What kind of soil is there? Does it drain well? Will you provide irrigation? Knowing what your area will support in terms of plant life will then shape your planting list.
Some suggestions:

  • Plant native plants. They typically require less water, are better adapted to the climate, and are generally preferred by pollinators for forage over non-natives. Find related resources below:
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
    USDA Plant List Database
    National Nursery and Seed Directory
    PlantNative MT & WY Regional Plant List

  • Utilize a diverse array of plants; ensure that there is always something blooming throughout the growing season so that pollinators have available forage during their active season. Diverse plants also introduce a variety of flower sizes, shapes, and colors. These various combinations will attract different pollinators and beneficial insects.
  • Think twice about using cultivars and double flowered plants. They are generally less attractive to pollinators and less hardy than native versions because plant breeders have selected for showier blooms, not necessarily nectar and pollen.

Site Preparation

Depending on the soil type of your chosen location, you may need to supplement with planting soil or fertilizers to ensure success of the planting. To identify specific soil deficiencies, a soil test could be beneficial. MSU Extension has a guide for home gardeners here.

Installation

A bumble bee feeds on nectar. Photo by Aaron Clausen

When installing, it’s important to consider any existing infrastructure you might disturb. Call 811 before you dig.
If planting from seed, take into account the needs of the seed to germinate. Some wildflower seeds require a hard frost before germination, so it may be necessary to put them in the freezer for a few days prior to planting.
If planting live plants, water fully to smooth the plant’s transition to its new environment.

Maintenance

Gardens and plantings will require some work after they have been established. You can minimize this through your planning and design, but there will always be some amount of maintenance to undertake.
As you cultivate the planting with pollinators in mind, also maintain the planting with pollinators in mind. Tolerating “messiness” will provide nesting habitats for pollinators, bugs, and birds.
Soil requires maintenance too. Assessing your soil health each year and amending any deficiencies could go a long ways toward improving the health of your garden.

Improving an Existing Space

Pollinators face habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. With the loss of native plants and habitat to development of all kinds, pollinators have less access to the forage and nesting sites that sustain them.

Here are some quick steps you can use to help in whatever existing space you already have:

  • DIVERSIFY. Plant pollinator-friendly plants that bloom throughout the growing season, providing food during the active season for pollinators.
  • MINIMIZE pesticide and herbicide use. If you spray, spray when pollinators are less active (generally evening). However, realize that residual pesticide can still harm visiting pollinators. Additionally, excessive herbicide use can reduce forage that pollinators rely on.
  • GET MESSY. Keep a less tidy yard. Many native pollinators nest in piles of brush and twigs, while others burrow nests in bare soil or dead trees and stumps.

Further Reading

Penstemon. Photo by Kelsey Molloy

Check out these resources for further technical advice and information regarding your pollinator plantings.
Designing Pollinator-Friendly Landscapes
How Gardeners Can Help Pollinators
How Farmers Can Help Pollinators