Stop 2: Pollinator Garden

Tarantula hawk on flower
Tarantula hawk.

In spring and summer, our pollinator garden is vibrant with fragrant flowers. Each plant growing here provides food and habitat for bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other pollinators.

A pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of a flower (stamen) to the female part (stigma). Pollination must occur for the plant to be fertilized and produce fruits, seeds, and young plants. Some pollinators intentionally collect pollen. Others move pollen accidentally. It sticks to their bodies while they are feeding and is transported from flower to flower, resulting in pollination.

Pollinators help keep more than 75% of Earth's flowering plants alive. This amounts to more than 1,200 food crops and 180,000 species that help stabilize our soils, clean our air, supply oxygen, and support wildlife. One out of every three bites of food you eat exists because of pollinators.

Pollinator populations are declining around the world, largely due to loss of their habitat and food sources. As habitats are fragmented, many become too small to meet the needs of pollinators. Native plants or wildflowers needed by pollinators are often outcompeted by non-native species. Pesticide use is also a concern.

Even small changes in our own backyards can help pollinators survive and thrive. Tips to consider:

  • Provide pollinator habitat by planting native flowers that bloom at different times. Many pollinators (such as the monarch butterfly) are migratory, and pollinator gardens can provide critical “stopover” habitat as they complete their migrations.

  • Place a shallow dish of water on your deck or window sill to help thirsty pollinators stay hydrated. Place several semi-submerged stones in the water dish so they can drink without running the risk of drowning.
  • Limit the use of pesticides. Pollinators can be harmed if they consume nectar or pollen that has come into contact with pesticides. Before using a pesticide, ask yourself: Are flowers in bloom or are pollinators active? Are there alternatives to using the pesticide? Am I applying the pesticide according to the instructions? You can also help reduce the risk of exposure by applying pesticides at night, when bees and other pollinators are inactive.

  • Ensure that different types of pollinators visit your yard by planting flowers of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Planting flowers in clumps makes it easier for pollinators to locate their next meal.
  • Provide nesting and sheltering sites. Different types of pollinators require different things. Potential nesting sites include trees (both living and dead), shrubs, brush piles, bare ground, and bee boxes.
  • The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign offers free planting guides customized by region. These guides make it easy to figure out what you can plant to promote healthy pollinator habitat. All you need is your five-digit zip code!
  • butterfly bush (Buddleia marrubifolia)
  • candy barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni)
  • chuparosa (Justicia californica)
  • desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
  • desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
  • fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla)
  • fleabane (Erigeron spp.)
  • trailing dalea (Dalea greggii)
  • whitestem milkweed (Asclepias albicans)
  • yellow bells (Tecoma stans)
  • brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
  • desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)
  • Graham's nipple cactus (Mammillaria grahamii)
  • mesquite mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum)
  • ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
  • teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
  • yellow palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

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Last updated: September 8, 2022