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Gardening Tips for Ways to Attract Pollinators

Hoping to see more birds, bees and butterflies? Here’s what to plant.

A monarch butterfly and a few bees hover over some purple flowers

Bloom-filled gardens in a range of colours make for a lovely sight. But there’s also an important benefit to planning a garden with a rainbow of flowers: it attracts pollinators. With reports of the decline of beneficial insects, home gardeners can do their part to make their gardens an oasis of food and shelter for these amazing little creatures. Here’s what to know about attracting friendly wildlife to your garden, especially birds, bees and butterflies.

The benefits of planting to attract wildlife

It’s important to know that “so many birds, even those that eat seeds as adults, need insects as food for their young and themselves, without which they cannot survive,” explains Sarah Coulber, an education specialist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. “In doing so, they help keep a balance with insects. We also get their critically important pollinating services, especially with bees, but also with butterflies and even hummingbirds.”

Plants that will be a draw for pollinators

Coulber recommends choosing a variety of plant types, such as trees, shrubs and flowering perennials. These will help to provide nectar, pollen, fruit and seeds. “The plants will also attract insects that are a crucial part of so many birds’ diet, as well as providing shelter for nesting, and escaping predators and the weather,” she says.

So what do you plant? For trees and shrubs, Coulber suggests native oak, maple, cedar, spruce, serviceberry, dogwood, willow and viburnum. For perennials, Coulber’s recommends native spring bloomers such as foamflower, wild geranium and wild columbine. For summer and fall blooms, liatris, echinacea, brown-eyed Susan, asters and goldenrods are all good options.

Other ways to make space for pollinators

It’s not just what you plant that will help wildlife, it’s how you approach your whole garden. “Plants provide food and shelter for bees and butterflies, but many of our 900 native bee species nest in the ground and need open sunny areas, while others nest in old pithy or hollow plant stems or wood,” Coulber explains. “Some butterflies need leaf litter in which to overwinter as part of their lifecycle,” she says. So consider setting aside a corner of your garden —ideally under trees—for a pile of leaves. You’ll save time raking, and will help moths, butterflies and birds in the process.

If you want to make your efforts official, the Canadian Wildlife Federation offers a free Garden Habitat Certification program that recognizes those who include natural sources of food, water and shelter on their property. The federations also recognizes those who avoid pesticides.

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Image credit: iStock.com/sanddebeautheil