Make Your Garden Hum with Pollinators

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By Melinda O’Briant, Turner Farm Adult Education Manager

The threat to our honeybee population from pesticides, climate change and other environmental stressors (all typically grouped together under the ominous name of “Colony Collapse Disorder) is fairly well known.

“No bees, no food” succinctly describes the degree to which our survival is linked to these amazing pollinators and their ability to fertilize many of the fruits, vegetables and nuts we enjoy every day.

Lesser known for their ability to pollinate and yet also endangered are other pollinators such as bats, moths and many species of butterfly.

Butterflies typically travel much longer distances than bees, thereby increasing the coverage of flowering plants in a larger area. They are perch feeders and prefer flowers with a labellum, which they use as a landing platform. As they search for nectar, their long and thin legs gather pollen which is spread from plant to plant.

Loss of habitat and pesticide usage are primary contributors to butterfly endangerment. I encourage you to plant butterfly-friendly gardens without use of pesticides.

Plants that attract butterflies include:

  • Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), native, perennial 30” tall, tolerated dryness.
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), native, perennial, 3’ tall, tolerates dryness, attracts Fritillaries and Monarch Butterflies.
  • New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), native, perennial, 3-4’ tall, thrives in dry sandy, well-drained places, attractive to Pearl Crescent, and Monarch Butterfly
  • Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), non-native annual, 8’ tall, attractive to swallowtails, monarchs and also hummingbirds
  • Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), native, perennial 2-3’ tall, attractive to bees, Fritillaries, hummingbird, sphinx moth and swallowtails, easy plant to grow
  • Joe Pye weeds (Eupatorium), native, perennial, 4-8’ tall, attractive to swallowtails, lives in wet meadows
  • Dense blazingstar (Liatris spicata), native, perennial, 4-5’ tall attractive to skippers, good in wet places
  • Rough blazingstar (Liatris aspera), native, perennial,4 -5’ tall, attractive to skippers, thrives in dry sandy, well-drained places
  • Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum), native, annual 2’ tall, attractive to bees and many butterflies
  • Zinnia (Zinnia elegans), non-native, annual, 10 inches to 4’, easy to grow, and attractive to many bees and butterflies

 

I’m especially fond of the monarch butterfly. These amazing creatures travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles in their migratory journey between the US and Canada to Central Mexican forests. Unfortunately, the area occupied by their winter habitat south of the border is decreasing every year.

What can be done about this?  Milkweed is the only plant on which these precious butterflies lay their eggs every year. Seeds for this plant are fairly cheap, and the plant itself is very hardy. Wherever you have space in your landscaping or garden, plant lots and lots of milkweed.

Of course, a well-tended butterfly garden also attracts hummingbirds, moths and bees. So, if your garden is too quiet, make some noise with pollinator-friendly flowers—both annual and perennial. A happy, heathy garden should hum!

 

Melinda is Turner Farm’s Adult Education manager and lives on the farm in Indian Hill. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University, a former horticulture professor and an award-winning professional in the field of flower arrangements.

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