Easy Butterfly and Bee Gardens

The long, dark Canadian winter months mean our gardens (like us) can only dream of the warmer days to come. Are you craving warm spring air and blooms? Native over-wintering pollinators are too.

Plant native plants to support our neighbourhood’s biodiversity and it’s supporting role to Altona Forest – and our region as a whole. The gardens near green spaces are vitally important to the health of those spaces: a network of home gardens can provide sustainable habitat for displaced and at-risk pollinators. Be creative this spring – create a pollinator haven with both native blooms and a few ‘fabulous foreigners’.

Part 1: NATIVES

Want to protect bees, monarchs, and other pollinators while enjoying your garden this year? It’s easy – plant some native blossoms and avoid pesticides/herbicide chemicals in your garden. Yes; it really is that simple. With gardening season around the corner, plan your garden as a pollinator-friendly place.

Birds, bees and butterflies see the world from above and don’t notice the fences and the neat blocks of private property. They see forest and forest edge; food or barrens. Roads, roofs, patios, driveways and traditional lawns are barren deserts to them. Imagine the view through their eyes – what is left?

They seek water, shelter, and reliable, untainted food sources. This is best created with native trees, vines, perennials and annuals. Small gardens with reliable food sources are capable of bringing back habitat if enough homes participate. This blog includes options of natives to plant in our small urban/suburban spaces to support biodiversity.

Not everyone can or will go 100% native in their gardens. Just add a few natives into the mix. I wouldn’t tell you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself – I’ve been living pesticide and herbicide free for a few years and made my garden 30% native plants. Does a smaller percentage still help native bees and butterflies?  You bet!

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Native bloodroot blooms early in spring – in the dappled shade under bare trees – a great native option instead of crocus

Native species are easy to add into your current garden and can be striking while supporting local wildlife. Here are some reasons you should add some native plants to your space:

  • They are generally low-maintenance
  • They draw and support local wildlife and insect life in ways we never even considered – but research is beginning to bring to light
  • They are winter/drought hardy to your region
  • They are beautiful

Part 2: Non-Invasive Fabulous FOREIGNERS

There are some plants that are NOT native but are perfect for a pollinator-friendly garden. Here are three fabulous pollinator-friendly foreign plants that will draw native pollinators to your space for food – and come back year after year:

  1. Lavender – The whole plant (leaves, stems and blossoms) smells heavenly while keeping mosquitoes away. Lavender is upright and clumping and if you buy a small plant, it might not blossom for 2-3 years. Don’t panic if it doesn’t. Buy the angustifolia variety since that is the ‘English lavender’ and most likely to thrive in our climate. It needs full sun and well-drained soil. It thrives in dry spots and neglect and draws bees non-stop from mid-July until the end of September if you leave the flowers on the plant. A bonus is that lavender is edible – from the rosemary family – and sprigs can be used as you would use rosemary while thick stems can be used as meat skewers. Blossoms can be used to make sugars and lavender lemonade. Of course you want to leave many of the long-lasting blossoms on the plant for the bees and butterflies too!
  2. imageedit_18_2381164681Sedum – Also known as stonecrop, this is an upright clumping member of a wide group of sedums plants. One of the popular varieties is ‘Autumn Joy’ for its large flower heads, but others are as successful. They are neat growing, no maintenance, and attractive in almost any setting. There are now some purple-leaf and variegated varieties – but verify what light conditions those need before planting them. I grow sedum in full to part-sun and never water them because they are drought tolerant once established. And from August to mid-October, the wide flower heads of the sedum draw a myriad of bees and butterflies. Leave the large flower heads on the plant through winter so they will feed the birds as well as adding some winter texture to the garden.
  3. Buddliea – Referred to as ‘butterfly bush’ with ample reason: if you plant it, they will come. Given the choice of all sorts of butterfly-friendly blooms in a professional garden built for pollinators (Rosetta McClain Garden), I watched as dozens of monarch butterflies went directly for buddleja on their fall migration. Buddleia comes in a myriad of varieties and colours now. This plant’s tall reaching stems look weedy to me, so it’s best in a mixed perennial bed – with full sun (8hrs) if you want to see sufficient blooms. (*While not invasive in the Altona Forest area, this plant is invasive in many areas of the US – please check your local planting guides)

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Planters with tropical annuals can also be bee and butterfly magnets if you choose ones with verbena, passion fruit vine, lantana, fuchsia, and geraniums. Zinnias and nasturtiums are easy from-seed garden plants that are kid-project friendly and draw butterflies regularly.

Don’t forget some herbs for a very sunny location and you will have herbs for your table or BBQ while drawing bees and butterflies: the best choices for pollinators are fennel, oregano, sage, thyme and mint (cat mint and cat nip are in this plant-family for your felines).

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So go ahead – fall in love with your garden this spring and don’t resist the garden centres. If you give a little thought to pollinators, you’ll help create ‘nectar corridors’ for bees and other migrating pollinators like butterflies in these suburban barrens. Each pollinator-friendly garden supports the integrated ecosystem, strength of biodiversity, and long term viability of green spaces like Altona Forest.

Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

What Makes a Pollinator Garden?

Bees and Other Pollinators – an excellent guide to the local pollinators and their needs

Native Plant Inspirations – TRCA pdf – great local plants

Hamilton’s Pollinator Program (wtg Hamilton! Raising the bar for other municipalities)

Gardening for Wildlife – section of the CWF website dedicated to gardeners

Grow Me Instead – Guide to Non-invasive Garden Plants – this link is for the Ontario (north and south) guides, but there are guides for most provinces

Pollinator Habitat – TRCA pdf

How to Draw Hummingbirds

Supporting Pollinators – Ontario Nature

Easy Butterfly And Bee Gardens  ~ © 2017 Natasha G

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This entry was posted in Forest-Friendly Practices, Gardening for Biodiversity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Easy Butterfly and Bee Gardens

  1. carolee says:

    Very informative. We all need to do our part.

  2. I enjoy your blog very much, but I have to disagree with the Butterfly Bush recommendation. In many places, it is very invasive. The USDA lists it as naturalized in 20 states, British Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It is prohibited from being sold or brought into the state of Oregon, and it’s listed as one of the top 10 noxious weeds in western Europe. Please don’t plant or recommend it! For more info: https://the-natural-web.org/2013/09/11/butterflybush-are-there-better-alternatives/

    Stick with natives!

    • tashakatt says:

      Thanks! Yours is one of the few blogs I read diligently – and love! You are absolutely right to point this out. Where I am, buddliea/butterfly bush is not a problem because it doesn’t become invasive and escape into the woodlands. However in other more-temperate areas it IS a problem. This is equally true with the scourge of tropical milkweed – it’s harmful to monarchs by delaying their migration until it’s too late for them to survive the trip – and should be universally avoided at all costs. Even where it’s not invasive.

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