Surround Yourself With a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

See how you can help butterflies and bees thrive.

The bees and butterflies we rely upon to pollinate the plants that feed us are in decline around the world. It's a grave problem but one that can be helped even with small efforts by all of us.

Pollinator-Friendly Terrace Has San Francisco Landmark Views

Pollinator-Friendly Terrace Has San Francisco Landmark Views

The Cloud Terrace at the 2016 San Francisco Decorator Showcase offers a nearly 180-degree view of San Francisco's top sights, including San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang added purple walls lined by pollinator friendly flowers to invite hummingbirds and bees to share in the otherwise private view.

Photo by: Jason Kisner; Design by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang

Jason Kisner; Design by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang

Take the stunning Cloud Terrace at last year's San Francisco Decorator Showcase. Landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang of SWA in Sausalito, Calif., packed this small outdoor getaway full of flora native to central California to provide nutrients to pollinator species.

As pollinators visit plants searching for nectar, they distribute pollen from plant to plant, kickstarting those plants' reproduction processes that ultimately lead to the plant-based foods that feed the Earth's entire ecosystem.

Pollinator-Friendly Wildflowers on Purple Rooftop Terrace

Pollinator-Friendly Wildflowers on Purple Rooftop Terrace

The 2016 San Francisco Decorator Showcase features a rooftop terrace lined by purple walls with pollinator-friendly flowers from landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang.

Photo by: Jason Kisner

Jason Kisner

Pollinators are in trouble for a number of reasons; loss of habitats, increase in pesticide use and spread of invasive species are among the biggest contributing factors.

Any backyard or apartment balcony can host a pollinator-friendly garden. The important elements for a pollinator garden, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is to select plants native to your home's region, include a variety of colors to catch the eyes of a variety of pollinators, select varieties that bloom at different times of the year and to clump plants together to create a stronger draw.

Purple Flower-Filled Terrace With City Views of San Francisco

Purple Flower-Filled Terrace With City Views of San Francisco

This lovely purple terrace at the 2016 San Francisco Decorator Showcase has an abundance of flowers as well as a collection of white contemporary outdoor furniture. It offers a great view of San Francisco's top sights. Landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang added purple walls lined by pollinator friendly flowers to invite hummingbirds and bees to share in the otherwise private view.

Photo by: Jason Kisner

Jason Kisner

Local native plants not only provide the most ideal habitat for pollinators in your area, they also tend to be the best-suited to growing in your local climate. The National Wildlife Foundation's Plant Finder and your local gardening center can help you identify what flowering plants are ideal for your home garden.

See 14 Pollinator Friendly Plants

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Spring Bloomer: Hepatica

Kim Eierman, environmental horticulturist and founder of EcoBeneficial! recommends including some native plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall to attract bees and other pollinators. Hepatica is a tiny, low-growing plant whose white, pink or blue flowers open as early as late winter or early spring. 

Spring Bloomer: False Indigo

Common to much of central and eastern North America, Baptisia australis, false indigo, can be found growing wild in open meadows, along streams and on the borders of forests. The plant produces striking flower spikes that hover over bright green foliage.

Spring Bloomer: Goat's Beard

An easy-to-grow plant with fine-textured, feathery blooms, Aruncus dioicus, goat’s beard or bride’s feathers, resembles Astilbe, but grows larger and is a perennial native to the Eastern U.S.

Spring Bloomer: Beard Tongue

Drought tolerant and deer resistant, Penstemon digitalis, bearded tongue, produces lovely white tubular flowers which stand out against its red leaves. It attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Spring Bloomer: Spiderwort

Tradescantia virginiana, spiderwort, is a clump-forming perennial which grows well in moist, acidic soil with full to partial shade. The flowers, which are violet-blue to purple, bloom from late May to early July.

Spring Bloomer: Stonecrop

Stonecrop, Sedum ternatum, is a low-growing, spreading, succulent groundcover that produces white, star-shaped flowers in the spring. 

Summer Bloomer: Swamp Milkweed

A plant that does well in floodplains and wet meadows, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) produces bright pink flowers in the summer and is a magnet for bees and butterflies.

Fall Bloomer: Aster

Native to almost every area of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, New England aster, grows easily in gardens with full sun and good air circulation. These tall and majestic plants produce deep blue to purple blooms and can continue to flower after early frosts.

Fall Bloomer: Goldenrod

This delightful wildflower makes hillsides look like Impressionist paintings in late summer and early fall, but is maligned because it blooms at the same time as ragweed. Ragweed pollen is what mucks up your sinuses; goldenrod pollen is made to be carried by bees and butterflies, not wind.

Fall Bloomer: Gentian

Notable for their large, trumpet-shaped flowers, which are often an intense blue, soapwort gentian, Gentiana saponaria, is a hardy plant which can grow in full sun or partial shade and is popular in rock gardens.

Fall Bloomer: Mist Flower

An attractive plant which blooms in late summer to fall, mist flower spreads easily and produces clusters of blue, violet or white flowers, which can grow up to three feet in height. It prefers moist areas in zones 4 to 9. For more recommendations on native perennials that attract bees, visit EcoBeneficial!

For the San Francisco garden, Chang included bluebells, catmint, sage, California lilac, delphinium and lavender and painted the terrace walls purple to work with his beautiful blooms to attract a variety of bees, butterflies and birds. 

This purple rooftop terrace at the 2016 San Francisco Decorator Showcase features purple walls lined by pollinator-friendly flowers from landscape architect Chih-Wei G.V. Chang.

Photo by: Jason Kisner

Jason Kisner

The Cloud Terrace isn't just for the birds and the bees, though. Chang included a few creature comforts for the humans, too, such as the bubble chairs from which to enjoy the panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, a french horn sculpture that works as a music amplifier and LED lights to take the terrace into the evening hours.

So as you're planning your summer garden, don't forget the little guys and gals who will help your garden and the greater ecosystem thrive.

Learn How to Make a Pollinator House

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A Finished Pollinator Habitat

It's easy to create an environment that shelters the pollinators so essential to a garden's eco-system.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ashley English

Assemble Your Supplies

I made my houses here from wood, which absorbs moisture. This creates an advantage over those made with plastic parts, which can cause pollen inside the tubes and holes to spoil. Bamboo tubes would be another good material to use here.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ashley English

Create the Framework of Your House

You can build a simple wooden box, use an old one, or pop the front off of a wooden birdhouse and use that. The front is the open side. It is good to have a little roof over your house, which can be as simple as a slightly pitched board, as with the one shown here. You don't want to paint the interior of the house, or the dowels, because the pollinators don't like the paint.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ashley English

Find Shelves and Dowels to Fit Your House

The house you build can be as tall or wide as you like, as long as you create evenly-spaced holes, from about 3.5" to 6" inches deep. Separate the levels within the house using 1/4" inch thick boards cut to fit the box that you choose. Any other piece of wood that fits is just fine too.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Add Your Dowels

Use a combination of 3/8" and 1/2" inch square dowels, cut to the depth of your box (these are readily available at home building supply stores). Space the dowels evenly apart. A handy trick is to use dowels of the same thickness to get even spacing and then remove them. According to some experts, it helps the pollinators to recognize their own hole from the others if the entrances aren't too uniform, so it can be good to cut some of the dowels a teeny bit shorter while leaving others a bit longer, giving a bit of 3-dimensional interest to the front.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ashley English

Enlist a Helper

If you want, after arranging the dowels where you want them to be, pull each dowel out a little, put a drop of glue on top, and slide them back in, so that they stay in place. You can also just leave them loose if you like, which allows you to take it apart later so that you can see the activity in the house, as well as clean it out, if need be. For young people interested in the life cycle of the creatures, being able to take the house apart is very useful, and it also helps you to unclog holes or weed out unwanted creatures.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ashley English

Finished House

Go ahead and paint the roof and sides if you like, as that adds a fun splash of color to the garden, and helps protect the house from the elements, allowing it to last longer.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Ashley English

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