More than 70% of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollination, which is essential for producing fruits and seeds. This includes approximately one third of the world’s food crops.
Colorado native pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps, hummingbirds and bats. When a pollinator enters a flower, pollen grains adhere to its body. While moving from flower to flower, the pollinator transfers those pollen grains to the flowers of the same species, resulting in cross pollination and plant production.
Pollinators need food, water, shelter and nesting space, collectively known as habitat, especially in urban areas dominated by hard surfaces such as concrete roads, parking lots and buildings. We can help support pollinator populations by including pollinator-friendly plants in our gardens.
The key to a successful pollinator garden is diversity. “Generalist insects” visit and feed from a wide variety of plants, but some pollinators have specialized relationships with native plants. These “specialists” may be able to only feed from one or two kinds of plants. They may require specific plants to grow from eggs to adults. For example, many butterflies sip nectar from nonnative plants, but the eggs need to be laid on specific plants or the caterpillar won’t recognize the plant as food. So the larval stage of insects needs to be considered also when plants are chosen for your habitat garden. Including a broad array of natives and nonnatives in your garden will help make it a desired pollinator destination.
Your garden habitat should contain a mixture of plant species so that bloom times range from early spring to late fall. Overlapping bloom times will ensure there is something available in your garden to provide nutrition throughout the pollinator’s activity season. For a list of native plants grouped by flowering season, go to: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/creating-pollinator-habitat-5-616/. These natives are adapted to our local climate and soil.
Pollinators will have an easier time finding plants in gardens where there are larger clumps or “drifts” of color. Plant at least three of each plant selected, and plant them next to each other. Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with “doubled” flowers. Those “perfect” flowers may have been created at the expense of pollen, nectar and fragrance, rendering the plant unusable for pollinators.
Use insecticides sparingly, if at all, and only according to package label.
Pollinators overwinter in different life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Some overwinter in hollow stems, while others attach to plants or overwinter in leaf litter. Unless disease is present, such as powdery mildew, leave your perennials standing all winter and do most of your garden cleanup in the spring. This will also provide visual winter interest.
Submit gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 520-7684. The in-person help desk is open 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at 17 N. Spruce St. Find on Facebook at Colorado Master Gardeners – El Paso County.