Jewels in the Garden
By Ginny Word
ubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Did you know you can find jewels in your garden? Not the kind you wear, the kind you grow. Flowers, along with their fanciful pollinator partners like butterflies, bees, moths, hummingbirds, and beetles, are jewels of a different kind. They are easily grown in your garden and fascinating to watch. Here are a few tips to get your pollinator garden started.
Find a sunny spot in your yard just begging for a bright splash of color. You could even use planters on your patio, deck, or balcony to get the beauty closer to wherever you spend the most time outdoors. You will want a front row seat for this show. Plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and the rest of the cast need a lot of sun. More sun means more flowers. More flowers mean more pollinators.
Many pollinators need host plants to lay their eggs, provide shelter, and feed their young. Most people think pollinator gardens are all about the flowers when in fact you should start with a place for their little ones, which host plants provide. Adult pollinators need nectar plants for food and energy. That’s where flowers come in to play.
Which plants provide nectar and which plants are hosts? Good question. There are numerous lists online that have charts showing which is which. Beyond Butterflies: Gardening for Native Pollinators is a publication from UGA Cooperative Extension. This guide is an excellent source of information that you can access online. It has a list of host and nectar plants native to Georgia. The guide will help you determine preferred plants to grow.
Pollinators are particular about which host plants they use to lay their eggs since these are the plants their young will eat once they hatch. Some butterflies only lay eggs on specific host plants. Then, the caterpillars eat the plants. If you are growing parsley or fennel to use for yourself, plant a couple more to feed your newfound friends too. They will love you for it and you will love having them fluttering around your garden.
Pollinators are not as particular about which nectar plants they visit, although they have preferences. A rule of thumb is to use native plants wherever possible. Native plants are becoming more available locally to purchase. Some easy native plants to grow are butterfly weed, bee balm, salvia, coreopsis, sunflowers, and goldenrod. Even those tiny little violets that you thought were weeds are important to pollinators. Choose plants for season-long blooming. Clover provides nectar for many pollinators, blooming early in the spring when flowers are scarce. Goldenrod is just as important to Monarch butterflies during their migration in the fall as milkweed is to their young caterpillars in the spring. Check the plant label before you buy. Often, the label will indicate if they are good pollinator plants, usually with a symbol of a butterfly.
While you are looking at the label, check if the plant was treated with neonicotinoids (neonics). These are systemic insecticides used by nursery growers. Systemic means the insecticide is internalized into all parts of the plant’s leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, and stems. Insecticides kill insects. That’s their job. However, we don’t want to kill our pollinator friends. If you use plants that have been treated with insecticides, the insects will ingest it. Say “so long” to your butterflies. Do not use plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids if you want to attract pollinators. Be cautious when treating your plants with insecticides.
Flowers are not the only things that attract pollinators to your garden. When was the last time you thought about including a mud puddle in your garden plan? Pollinators love them. They slurp up minerals and salts from the soil. A shallow, flat dish with a layer of pebbles makes a fine watering hole. Bird baths are too deep for butterflies to use. Also, pollinators like things a bit untidy. They use leaf litter for hiding and shelter as well as twigs and branches for perching while warming in the sunshine.
With a little planning, you can have jewels beyond your wildest riches right in your own backyard. So, click those ruby slippers together and say, “There’s no place like home.” Start an adventure into gardening for pollinators in your own backyard.
Ginny Word resides in Rome, GA with her husband Jay and their furry buddies Max and Cookie. If she is not in her garden, you can find her riding country roads on her motorcycle alongside Jay. She is a certified Master Gardener with the Floyd County Extension Office. She serves on the Bee City USA-Rome, GA Bee Board. After retiring from a thirty-year career in education, she enjoys giving back to the community through a variety of volunteer opportunities. Her motto is: Garden to Live, Live to Garden.