June 28, 2022
Pollinator week has passed but we will continue to celebrate pollinators all month long with pictures, stories, and garden advice. Plant with purpose, now is a great time to create a pollinator-friendly yard or garden.
What is actually involved in being a pollinator friendly gardener? First open your eyes to the complex world that is your garden. Pay close attention to the plants and creatures and the interaction between them. This is how the garden will become even more useful to pollinators—and to the gardener as well.
Consider that pollinator can be one of a great many creatures. What an opportunity for learning! These creatures have been essential to life for a very long time but they need all the help that gardeners can give. Solitary bees make up 90% of native bees and bumble bees make up the rest. They are social but live in small groups numbering in the hundreds, not the many thousands of bees that make up honeybee hives. Now honeybees do wonderful things but your garden is not an almond orchard. Native bees will do a great job pollinating the flowers including the flowers of herbs and vegetables.
The gardener doesn’t need to know hundreds of bee names to observe the differences between them and to begin to see how they interact with the plants in the garden. Accept that wasps, flies and beetles are also involved in pollination. Be careful and observe them as they go about their lives. They have a place in the world so share the message.
Didn’t pollinator gardens used to be called butterfly gardens? Well, it’s an updated designation but butterflies are an essential part of gardening. Butterflies are delightful and this is important. They are a wonderful way to engage potential gardeners—that’s everybody!
Bees are essential but butterflies win “most popular insect” every time. Of course, the pollinator garden should attract and care for them. Flowers are what is needed, lots of flowers. Plant as many shapes and sizes as can be grown and not just in spring but summer and fall, too. That requires planning and of course ongoing care but that’s what gardeners do.
Everyone wants monarchs, of course they do, and that’s fine but don’t stop there. There are so many butterflies to learn about. In this area the garden could be visited by eastern black swallowtails, pipevine swallowtails, painted ladies’, common buckeyes, lots of skippers (some people say they aren’t really butterflies) but they are lovely little creatures. Snouts—so easy to recognize—yes they do have a snout.
Delicate hairstreaks love tiny flowers, there are dusky wings of various sorts. Funeral is a favorite with its dark wings bordered with white. So many and all are interesting and beautiful. Take the time to look carefully. Honestly, they are just as enchanting as monarchs.
Gardeners want butterflies—so take the next step. Find out about their host plants and try to grow at least three different kinds if possible. Butterflies have an amazing ability to find their host plants so eggs can be laid. Then the larvae hatch. Do they eat the plants? Yes. Do the plants then look ragged? Yes”, but without this…no butterflies. Do not assume this is common knowledge. It isn’t and needs a good explanation. Never use pesticides, then explain again. Butterflies and bees are insects. Diplomatic skill must be used! So much to learn, but that’s the great thing. There is no need for boredom!
There are many sources of information on bees, butterflies, wasps and butterfly gardening.
A great butterfly reference is “Butterflies of Oklahoma, Kansas and North Texas”
(By John M Pole, Walter B Gerard and John M Nelson from the University of Oklahoma Press)
Look up the Xerces society for information on native bees along with gardening and conservation information also.
Susan Thornbury, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Pictures by Starla Willis, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2011