Jun 11, 2018

Creating Pollinator Habitats in Your Yard

It is estimated that 90% of flowering plants, and over 30% of human food crops require pollinators to reproduce, such as creating the fruits and vegetables that we eat, and creating new flowering plants in our environment.  Additionally, pollinators are an integral part of the widely diverse and complicated web of relationships between all living things on Earth.

Without them, we literally lose life on our planet.

Although bees are the first thing to come to mind on the topic of pollinators, it goes well beyond that. Bees are a large portion of the incredibly diverse group of pollinators, but they aren’t doing all of the work. Other insects, such as wasps, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths, and animals, such as hummingbirds and bats, are all part of the fragile and necessary pollination process.

Research has shown that the numbers of native and domesticated pollinator populations are declining. The wide use of pesticides and increased habitat loss, as well as new diseases, are wiping out pollinator species all over the world. They are struggling to survive, as well as struggling to pollinate all the plants that need their help to reproduce.

OK, that’s all the depressing news. Here’s the good news:

YOU can help your local pollinators. Yes, you can make a difference in all of our lives and help your community continue to grow and thrive. It’s not only possible to help your local pollinators, but it can be easier than you think and you’ll reap the rewards of helping struggling beneficial insects while boosting the health of your garden.

Here’s a few tips:

Create a native plant garden

Here in Tampa we are part of an area known as the Outer Coastal Plain, which spreads along the East Coast of the US from Delaware south through parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, and most of Florida.  No matter what area of the world you live in, your local pollinators rely on native plants to eat and reproduce. In many cases, pollinators don’t even recognize exotic plants and won’t be drawn to them for nectar and pollen! Some examples of our favorite plants native to our area include:

Trees & Shrubs:

Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Common Wax Myrtle (Marella cerifera)

Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana)

Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor)

Azaleas (Rhododendron alabamese, Rhododendron atlanticum, & Rhododendron austrinum)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)


Red Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata)

Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

Showy Aster (Eurybia spectabalis)

Blue Lobelia (Lobelia elongata)

Narrowleaf & Savanna Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius & Helianthis heterophyllus)

Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)

Having native plants to help the pollinators eat, shelter, and reproduce will help ensure that they are available to pollinate your garden and keep local biodiversity thriving. You’ll host a home for many important pollinators, and you’ll enjoy the bonus of a low-maintenance garden full of local natural beauty, too.

Plant Pollinator-friendly No Pesticide Zones

Many garden chemicals kill beneficial insects along with the pests you are targeting. Having areas where no pesticides or herbicides are used at any time helps pollinators survive. If you MUST spray your vegetables or show-garden, please only do so when most pollinators are not active, and only on days when it’s not windy to keep the spray from travelling.  Pollinator.org has some good resources on when pollinators are active in your area so that you can be sure, including info for Pollinator Week from June 18-25, 2018. It’s important to remember that the chemicals linger and can still kill bees and other beneficial insects. Hand-picking and other pest remedies are much safer for your pollinators.

I recommend planting an area of the yard that receives no clipping, mowing, sprays, herbicides or any other disturbance. Once planted, allow this area to flower, reseed itself, and grow unhindered (you can trim the edges of the area, as some plants spread). Including plants listed above, as well as other pollinator-friendly plants listed below, will go a long way to ensuring the survival of pollinators in your area. This little patch will be a tiny slice of paradise for your local pollinators, and the native plants that take over are a great reminder of some of the amazing natural beauty we have around this area!

Here’s some garden pollinator-friendly plants to consider:

Catnip                                                                          Sunflowers

Iris                                                                                Purple tansy

Lavender                                                                     Coreopsis

Roses                                                                            Goldenrod

Salvia                                                                          Penstemon

Provide Water and Shelter in your Pollinator Garden

We all need shelter and water, and your local Pollinators are no exception.  In fact, The Pollinator Partnership has created a contest called The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge that you can enter and help your pollinators thrive while having a lot of fun.

Here are a few ideas to keep in your pollinator garden area:

  • Safe areas of bare ground – Andrenid bees, Sweat bees, Digger bees, Plasterer bees, Squash bees, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Gourd bees all like undisturbed, bare soil areas for nesting and resting. This can be provided in areas where not much grows anyway, or an area that is cleared WITHOUT CHEMICALS for this purpose.
  • Upside-down old planting pot habitats – Bumble bees and wasps are attracted to areas that have space, darkness, and one opening to enter and exit. Once it’s there, don’t disturb it.
  • Tunnels and human-made cavities for shelter – Bumble bees, Beetles, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Mason bees like this kind of cover.
  • Habitats of stacks of soft dead wood, like poplar, cottonwood, willow – frequented by Large Carpenter bees, they make it into a home by carving the wood. Beetles also make tunnels in wood that Leaf-cutter bees will take over after the beetle emerges.
  • Pithy stems for habitats, like Rose or Blackberry Canes and bamboo – small Carpenter bees, Leaf-cutter bees, Mason bees, and Yellow-faced bees prefer these small tunnel-like structures.
  • Stacks of sticks & logs for shelter – many bees, as well as native wasps and other beneficial insects, use this kind of terrain as shelter and homes.
  • Shallow watering pools – using a shallow terra cotta, concrete, or plastic tray (like one for catching water under potted plants), place rocks with flat smooth sides in the tray and then fill with water, leaving the top of the rock surfaces exposed. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will land on the rocks to rest and sip water. Make sure to place it in or near your pollinator garden so that they have everything they need in a close area. Because of mosquitoes, the trays will have to be cleaned out often, but supporting our pollinators by providing easy water sources is worth the 60 seconds of extra maintenance work.
If you would like more information about how to help your local pollinators, check out this document from The Pollinator Partnership and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign for our region.

Other great resources include:




Let us see what you’re doing for our local Tampa pollinator population by commenting below or tagging us on Facebook (go Like our Facebook page and then use the “@ShellsFeed” in your post to tag us).

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