Find the right plants
Plants and pollinators from the same geographical area have co-evolved to work well together, so look for native species of plants. Also look for single-bloom varieties of flowers, which pollinators can easily navigate because the flowers’ nectaries—from which pollen and nectar are extracted—are exposed. Do some research on “host plants,” specific varieties of plants that butterflies look for in order to lay their eggs. Honeybees find white, yellow, blue and purple flowers easiest to spot, while hummingbirds gravitate towards red blooms. Bees also love aromatic plants like lavender, and sunflowers pull in pollinators with their bright colour and impressive height. Research online and by connecting with local beekeeping and pollinator groups to learn more about what plants will work best in your ecosystem.
Plant with a plan
Pollinators require a constant source of food from spring to fall, so make sure to pick plants that will yield a continuing sequence of blooms through the growing season. When planting, group species together in the garden so that bees, which tend to collect pollen from one type of plant at a time, can spot their food sources easily and efficiently gather pollen.
Pollinators are extremely sensitive to chemicals, so look for organic or pesticide-free plants, try to use natural fertilizers like compost, and do your weeding by hand. Don’t worry about having the most neatly manicured lawn on the block—dandelions provide essential nutrients, and leaving fallen trees in your yard provides a home for cavity-nesting bees. Avoid excessive raking or tilling in case of ground-nesting pollinators—leaving some fall leaves on the ground can help pollinators overwinter. Patches of bare soil can also host bee species that tunnel into the ground to build nests.
Provide water and shelter
You can build nesting boxes for cavity-nesting species such as Mason bees yourself, or purchase them from your local garden centre. Pollinators also need a source of fresh water. Roll out the welcome mat by filling a shallow dish with water and marbles, where insects can perch to collect water without drowning. Just be sure to change the water regularly.
Cover photo: Designs abound for cavity-nesting bee homes. Photo: Stephan Morris/Shutterstock