3 min read
Bumble bee and butterfly on pink zinnia flowers. Blurry bokeh

Pollination is something that people often take for granted, but it is a vital component to growing plants and generating food. Pollination is the movement of pollen from the male part of a plant (anther) to the female part of the plant (stigma). When pollination is successful, people reap the rewards with fresh fruit and vegetables. Because plants cannot pollinate themselves, many have developed flowers which help attract a variety of pollinating insects, such as bees and butterflies. While there are several different types of insects that provide pollination, the honeybee is the leader of the pack. Honeybees are responsible for approximately 85 percent of the pollination needed to produce a third of the food supply in the United States.

Planting for Pollinators

Planting pollinator-friendly and sustainable gardens and flower beds provides both beauty and the ability to attract beneficial insects, such as bees, to the yard, which also helps to reduce the need for pesticides. Utilizing plants on the property that attract and sustain pollinators can not only increase their population, it also can lead to higher fruit and vegetable production in your yard as well as those of your neighbors. Intentionally planting flowers, such as zinnias, marigolds, or black-eyed Susans, will draw beneficial insects onto the property. However, this is just one component of attracting pollinators.

In addition to planting flowers, fruits, and vegetables, bees also need nesting sites. This is easy to accomplish. A brush pile or rotting logs on the property can be great for nesting bees, such as the bumblebee. For the ground-nesting bees, simply leave a bare ground area that is in full sun and free of mulch or pine straw. Butterflies require a host plant, such as milkweed, dill, carrots, parsley, or fennel. These should be planted in full sun. Since insects are cold blooded, you can enhance the sun’s warming with stepping stones or a gravel pathway.

Planting pollinator gardens or fields is also a great way to increase the population of pollinators and to aid in food production. Pollinators, like any other wildlife, require food, water, and shelter. Begin attracting pollinators by selecting a site on the property that provides nesting sites and water. Then, simply add desirable plants, such as sunflowers, purple coneflower, and flowering shrubs and trees. These will provide nectar and pollen sources for a wide range of insects. While selecting plants, choose ones that have different bloom times. Ideally, plant species that flower at varying times during the spring, summer, and fall. When planting for pollinators, choose a variety of flowering plants. Start by planting approximately ten different plant species. When possible, plant the same species together in a 2-to-3-foot mass. While attractive to look at, it also makes it easier for the insects to find and navigate the garden. If you have a garden with winter vegetables, allowing them to flower will also provide bees and other pollinating insects with nectar early in the season.

Reducing the use of pesticides is also beneficial to pollinators. Pesticides can cause injury to bees and other pollinating insects. It is recommended that they only be used when absolutely necessary. Pesticides that come in a dust form are particularly harmful to bees because they stick to the bees’ bodies and are then carried back to the nest. If pesticides are necessary, choose one that is less toxic to pollinators, like insecticidal soaps. It is also helpful to spray pesticides late in the evening when bees are less active.


Planting a wide variety of flowering plants, fruits, and vegetables—along with providing nesting sites and a water source—will create the ideal habitat for pollinators and will help you to produce an abundance of fresh vegetables.