All you green thumbs may have heard of a couple of buzz words fluttering around the gardening world lately; terms like “native species” or “pollinator friendly.” But what does that mean for you, your garden and your region?
Pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths) are a keystone group of species, which means a network of other species in the ecosystem depend on the health of those pollinators, and the functions they provide. The job of these “essential workers” is to pollinate the wild plants that wildlife depend on for nourishment—as well as the agricultural crops we humans depend on. It’s all a trickle-down effect. For example, when we say “save the bees,” it’s because a declining population creates a chain reaction throughout an ecosystem.
So, as we gear up for our next harvest and planting season, it’s vitally important that gardeners take pollinators into account when planning landscapes, gardens or veggie patches.
Feeding polinators = good; planting native species = better
Though a garden’s non-natives (like flowering strawberry or cucumber plants) help feed pollinators, the next step is to plant native species.
Native species are those which have been endemic to a specific area since pre-European settlement. They’ve evolved with the local climate, are very well established and local pollinators have evolved to identify these plants’ look and smell. In return, native plants yield more nutrient-dense food for pollinators and humans.
Once one pollinator comes over for a visit, they’ll zone in on the plant or garden and broadcast a message for others in the colony to come. Plus, they don’t just benefit the native plants; they’ll make sure adjacent crops get some love, too. Once again, it’s all a ripple effect.
Fostering symbiotic relationships
When it comes to native planting, it’s not just about feeding the pollinators but also, hosting them through the winter months.
Planting at every level—including ground cover, shrub layers and canopy layers (trees)—will help pollinators survive each season. Trees house pollinators through the winter months and alongside shrubs, are often the first to blossom, providing nourishment for pollinators come spring.
The added benefit to planting native species in your garden is that they are well adapted to survive, thrive even, in your region’s climate conditions and weather. Native trees and flower beds require less fertilizer and water, which also saves you time and money.
Thanks to these symbiotic relationships, native species and pollinators create the most sustainable habitats.
How to get started
You don’t want to plant something in your garden just because it’s native.
Here’s where the research comes in: You have to plant for the microclimates within your yard and choose specimens based on sun exposure and soil. You’ll want to pick the right spot for plants, as some need full sun and others demand shade; they want to be planted in conditions where they are naturally found.
Non-natives, like lavender, will absolutely still support pollinators. The only thing gardeners or landscapers should avoid are invasive species or noxious weeds out of respect for our neighbours.
Otherwise, when designing your garden, you’ll want to plant those native flowers in groups or masses. If you scatter them, the forager gets confused with switching gears. Clustering makes it easy for them to float from flower to flower.
You can identify your region’s native plants on this website, or you can ask your local nursery what is in season and native.
Note: Please don’t pick or dig up native plants from the wild. They are often protected and have established roots and symbiotic relationships with their environment, which is hard to recreate in a garden.
Pollinators are a key to a successful garden and making these small considerations will help save pollinator species while feeding you and your family more nutrient-dense foods, and preserving the natural history of your region.
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