Here you are, enjoying the lovely weather, perfecting your BBQ skills. And then, out of nowhere, a wasp swoops down and stings you just above your toenail. Hurts? You bet! Wasps love the smell of protein on your BBQ, and sometimes they may challenge you to a backyard duel. But not all insects are this brave. A vast majority of them will be unnoticed as they go about their business of pollinating various flowers in your garden.
These pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and bats affect a third of the world’s crop production. This is a vital part of food production and cultivation of plants. I asked Colin Hayles at Golden Acre Home & Garden what we can do to help pollinators thrive here in Calgary:
Start by putting plants in your garden that specifically attract local pollinators. These plants are hardy for our climate and are also easy to come by.
Among many others, look for Aster, Basil, Bee Balm, Begonia, Blackcurrant, Bleeding Heart, Columbine, Cosmos, Daylily, Delphinium, Dianthus, Fennel, Foxglove, Gaillardia, Geranium, Gladiolus, Gooseberry, Grasses, Hawthorn, Hollyhocks, Impatiens, Iris, Lavender, Liatris, Lily, Lupine, Marigold, Milkweed, Mint, Nettle, Nicotiana, Oregano, Petunia, Phlox, Plum, Poppy, Purple Coneflower, Raspberry, Rosemary, Sage, Salvia, Shasta daisy, Stonecrop, Strawberry, Sunflower, Thistle, Thyme, Verbena, Wild Lilac, Wild Rose, Willow, Yarrow, Zinnia, Apple and Cherry Trees.
Colin also noted some tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden:
1) Plant at diverse heights, everything from trees to ground covers and every level in between. Some good examples include hanging baskets and sunflowers.
2) Aim for diverse plantings using annuals, perennials and/or trees and shrubs that allow you to have pollen readily accessible throughout the year.
3) Leave those early spring weeds alone. When everything is brown, the first color we get is the yellow dandelions. These are a crucial food source for pollinators, so leave them be and the pollinators will start visiting your yard.
4) Provide clean drinking water, and if possible, mud. Our pollinator friends need clean water and certain bees like to build with mud. Butterflies would rather drink from mud puddles than clean water as it provides them with essential minerals. Ideally, you’ll also have running water as it stays cooler and fresher for longer; plus, the sound is an attractant. Small flying insects like bees like shallow pools of water. Something like a birdbath filled with a few rocks provides small islands for bees to land on and access water without drowning.
5) Provide shelter. Put up Mason Bee houses, butterfly houses, bat boxes, bird boxes, etc. The more life you have in a garden, the more life will be encouraged to flourish there.
6) Be wary of hybrid plants. They may be stunning to look at but they are notorious for having little to no pollen. A few hybrids are fine as they are a lure but the best choice is old fashioned or heritage plants.
7) Leave an over-wintering ground. Choose a smaller area of your yard and leave the winter leaves there.
8) Stay away from chemicals as much as possible. Some pesticides and herbicides can harm pollinators even if not used directly on them.
Colin Hayles & Paulina Taylor