Guide to Transform Your Lawn into a Pollinator Friendly Garden
Flower gardens and vegetable beds are lovely, but there’s nothing quite like the sweet sound of bees busy at work to make your garden truly come alive. If you’ve ever thought about growing a pollinator garden for bees and other beneficial insects, this article is for you. We’ll cover some of the best ways to transform your grass lawn into a thriving pollinator habitat!
Why grow a pollinator garden?
Pollinator populations have been on the decline for years due to a number of reasons. While most people are familiar with the honey bee decline, 75% of bees are actually solitary, ground dwelling bees, like bumblebees and carpenter bees. These bee types, like honey bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators, are experiencing rapid population loss too.
There are several primary reasons why this is occurring. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to housing developments, urban sprawl and industrialized agriculture are primarily culprits. The widespread use of synthetic pesticides is another leading cause of bee and pollinator decline.
But these changes don’t just affect pollinators. Many of our food crops, including blueberries and various fruit and nut trees, depend on pollinators to produce their fruit. In fact, 75% of food crops worldwide depend on insect pollination.
As dreary as this sounds, there is hope. Small scale, backyard pollinator habitats can help combat pollinator decline and provide a much-needed source of food, water and shelter for bees and other pollinators.
Grass yards create a monoculture that have little utility for beneficial insects. But, by swapping out turf grass for clover, or adding some ornamental flowering beds, you can do so much to help pollinators make a comeback.
How to create a bee friendly garden
From big backyards to small outdoor patios, you can adapt your pollinator garden to even the smallest space or container garden. If flower gardens aren’t for, replacing your existing turf grass lawn with bee-friendly clover is one easy solution. Or, if you only have a small balcony space, try adding a hummingbird feeder or a few potted flowering plants.
Anything you can do for pollinators helps!
1. Add native plants
Native plants are some of the top bee-friendly plants around as they have evolved alongside native pollinators and are often their preferred food source. What’s more, because they are naturally found in your growing location, they are well-adapted to your particular climate and weather patterns, so they are usually easier to keep and require less maintenance and fertilizer.
To determine the best native plants to sow in your garden, the Xerces Society has compiled a helpful list of the best plants for specific growing regions. However, for most growing locations, the top 10 flowers for bees and other pollinators include:
- Purple coneflower
- Bee balm
- Joe Pye weed
- Black-eyed Susan
- Cardinal flower
2. Plan for the whole season
While native plants and other bee-friendly flowers are sure to increase pollinator activity in your garden, it’s important to consider the entire growing season when planning out your garden beds. After all, autumn-blooming asters are of little use to early emerging pollinators in springtime when they’re on the hunt for nectar!
Succession planting different species of flowers that bloom spring to fall will guarantee that, no matter when pollinators arrive in your outdoor space, they’ll always find something tasty to eat. So try to choose some plants that bloom in spring, summer and autumn for year-round garden flowers, nectar and pollen.
For spring gardens, try out early bloomers like snowdrops, crocuses and forsythia.
In summer, coneflowers, bee balm and coreopsis are hard to beat.
And in autumn, late blooming plants, like asters and goldenrod, will ensure that pollinators will have something nutritious to eat to help prepare them for the long winter months ahead.
3. Group your flowers
Sowing your plants in groups is a simple way to make your garden more pollinator friendly. Not only are clusters of plants easier for traveling pollinators to spot, but planting in this manner creates a more naturalistic look to your landscape.
While it can vary, try to plant at least 3 to 5 of the same plants together. If you’re working with bulbs, like daffodils, you can sow many bulbs in a group to create colorful drifts of springtime blooms. This will create a more impressive pop of outdoor color and it will also make it easier for pollinators to feed as they won’t need to travel as far between plants.
4. Plant a clover lawn
Turf grass is a monoculture that doesn’t really benefit pollinators at all. Even worse, turf grass has high watering needs and often requires fertilizer to keep it looking its best. All these factors together make turf grass a less eco-friendly lawn option than alternative lawns, like clover.
Clover lawns require less water than grass lawns and they also don’t need any fertilizer or herbicides as they naturally repress weed growth and fertilize themselves thanks to their nitrogen-fixing abilities. These eco-friendly lawn alternatives look quite pretty when in bloom and they require less frequent mowing too.
Bees and other pollinators love the nectar and pollen-rich flowers in clover lawns and you’re sure to see more foraging pollinators once you’ve planted some clover. Clover lawns can also limit garden damage from deer and rabbits, who will usually prefer to munch on clover instead of your fresh veggies.
If you decide to plant a clover lawn, you can simply overseed your existing lawn with clover seeds for a quick fix. Alternatively, you can remove your existing grass and start from scratch with clover instead.
5. Go organic
The overuse of pesticides is one of the leading causes of the population decline in bees and other pollinators. Opting to use all natural and organic pesticide and herbicide treatments in your garden is an important step in creating a pollinator garden that is perfectly bee safe.
Chemical pesticides can kill bees and other pollinators; however, when properly applied, all-natural treatments are just as effective and much safer for wildlife. Neem oil, diatomaceous earth, BT thuricide, floating row covers and organic insecticidal soap sprays are all useful for controlling garden pests and are much safer for pollinators. Just keep in mind that any pesticide, organic or not, can harm bees if used incorrectly so never apply harmful pesticides or chemicals directly to plant flowers where pollinators congregate.
Instead of opting for synthetic herbicides, smothering weeds with weed barrier fabrics, plastic tarps and mulch can work well too. And, in a pinch, horticultural vinegar sprays or weeding torches will make short work of most pesky weeds.
6. Hang some feeders
Planting flowers bees love, like butterfly bushes and flowering sage and dill, will provide pollinators with plenty of food for foraging. But, if you really want to make your garden a pollinator paradise, adding a few well-placed feeders can help too.
Hummingbird feeders will provide a ready source of food for various pollinators. But, for something a bit different, try cutting up fruit (like oranges and bananas) and placing them outdoors on a pie tin or plant saucer. Butterflies and other beneficial insects won’t be able to resist the sugary treat.
For pollinator health, just remember to clean out your feeders about twice a week during hot weather. It’s also a good idea to locate your feeders out of direct sunlight to keep the nectar from spoiling. We love the following feeder.
7. Install a water feature
Like other living creatures, pollinators need a fresh supply of clean water. But, while bird baths can help, they are often too deep for delicate pollinators to drink from.
Placing a few shallow dishes full of clean pebbles and water around your garden can give bees, butterflies and other insects a much needed drink on a hot summer’s day. You can also add a small sprinkling of salt or organic compost to the water to give pollinators a quick nutrient boost too.
Just remember to refresh the water in your pollinator dishes daily to prevent disease spread.
8. Provide shelter
Adding solitary bee houses, bat boxes and bird houses to your garden will encourage wildlife activity. However, if you prefer a more natural look, it’s easy enough to provide plenty of shelter for beneficial insects with plants.
Leaf litter, brush piles or old plant matter in your garden can give shelter to slumbering pollinators during the winter. So, if you can, consider leaving some old plant debris in place until spring.
Snag trees are dead or dying trees that make ideal shelters for birds and other wildlife too. If you have a snag on your property and it doesn’t pose a safety issue, you can leave that in place as a natural shelter for birds.
Check out the Wildlife World Interactive Wooden Bee House
9. Spread the word
While a single pollinator garden can help a surprising amount of bees and other insects, having several organic gardens together in a single neighborhood will do that much more. If you’ve been bitten by the pollinator gardening bug, spread the words to your neighbours, family and friends and perhaps they will want to grow their own bee friendly habitat!
If you want, you can also have your garden certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Once your garden is certified, you can hang a sign in your space to let neighbours and passersby know about your garden. It may inspire them to start their own garden too.
Backyard pollinator habitats have never been more important than they are today. Depending on your available space, not all of the suggestions in this guide may be appropriate for you, but the more pollinator-friendly elements you add to your garden, the more bees, butterflies and hummingbirds you’ll attract. So try out some native plants or hang up a hummingbird feeder – you’ll be impressed by the amount of pollinators you’ll attract in no time!