Beckon Pollinators to Your Backyard With a Bee-neficial Container Garden

No matter where you live, pollinators — bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and bats — play an essential role in ensuring that you have fresh, bountiful food to eat. In short: no pollinators, no food. Make your backyard a haven for our hardworking friends with a pollinator-friendly container garden that'll add lushness to your landscape while providing them with everything they need to keep saving the world.

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia Photography

Create a Bee-autiful Oasis in Your Backyard

It's estimated that pollinators are to thank for 1 in 3 bites of food you eat. Their industrious work allows you to enjoy your morning cup of coffee or tea, the avocado, tomatoes and carrots in your salad, a midafternoon snack of almonds, and even the chocolate you savored for dessert — plus — the agave (ahem, tequila!), sugar and lime in your margarita. Thanks, pollinators!

Provide a Feast for Our Friends

Clearly, we have so much to thank pollinators for. Keep clicking to learn how to create a dedicated area for them to feed on nectar, gather pollen and enjoy a quick sip of water before continuing the necessary work of cross-pollinating 30 percent of the world's food crops and 90 percent of our wild plants.

Which Plants to Choose?

Deciding which plants to choose can be confusing. Bees are naturally drawn to flowers in the yellow, white or blue-purple color range while butterflies can't resist blooms that are shades of pink, purple, red, yellow and orange. Thanks to their long slender beaks, hummingbirds prefer flowers with a vase-like shape, like foxglove, while night pollinators — bats and moths — prefer white or heavily scented blooms they can easily detect in the dark.

Container Garden: Gather Your Supplies

For the stacked planter you'll need: small and large whiskey barrels (available at your local garden center or hardware store), a bucket that's a bit shorter than the larger barrel, potting soil, rocks, broken pottery or pool noodles (optional) to fill the bottom of the planter and provide additional drainage and an assortment of pollinator-friendly plants. We used: echinacea, gaillardia, verbena, pentas, garden phlox, salvia, scaevola, aster, balloon plant, sunflowers, zinna and yarrow.

Container Garden, Step 1

Invert the bucket and place it upside-down in the large whiskey barrel, this will provide a sturdy base for adding the smaller, top barrel. Note: Repurposed whiskey barrels make great planters but make sure that the barrels you choose have multiple large drainage holes or use a drill and bit to create them. Proper drainage is key to ensuring your plants stay properly moist but not so wet, like after a drenching rain, that they begin to rot.

Container Garden, Step 2

Add a layer of gravel or broken pottery to the base of the planter to assist with drainage, then top with potting soil. Leave enough room at the top of the planter to accomodate the plants' roots and surrounding soil you'll be adding.

Container Garden, Step 3

Create a stacked effect by placing the smaller whiskey barrel on top of the inverted bucket. No need to anchor it, the weight of the soil and plants will keep it in place.

Container Garden, Step 4

As with the large barrel, fill the bottom of the top barrel with cut-up pool noodles, broken pottery or stones to reduce the amount of soil you'll need while assisting with drainage, then top with potting soil.

Plant Bottom Whiskey Barrel

Leaving the upper barrel in place to ensure proper placement for the bottom layer's plantings, begin adding plants. Group two or more of the same plant together to create a lusher look while making it easier for bees to harvest the flowers. Bees travel up to 6-1/2 miles from their hive to find nectar and pollen. Planting nectar- and pollen-rich plants en masse makes it easier for them to harvest several in one spot and save some of the energy they’d normally expend in searching out that much food.

Plant Top Whiskey Barrel

Following the same tip to plant several of the same bloom together, remove plants from their pots, gently tease the roots apart and fill in the top whiskey barrel, leaving a small open area in the center for a bee bath.

Give Plants a Drink

Planting is tough work on plants, be sure to give them a good soak when you're done to rehydrate their roots and help them settle in to their new home.

Bee Bath: Gather Your Supplies

For the bee bath you'll need: a small, shallow plate, 24" single plant support (AKA peony stake), 2-part outdoor epoxy, a small disposable container for mixing epoxy and pebbles or seaglass to give insects a place to rest while they drink.

Assemble Bee Bath

Mix a small amount of 2-part outdoor epoxy following manufacturer's instructions. Dip the looped end of the plant support into epoxy mixture and immediately press onto center of plate's bottom. Hold, or tape, in position till epoxy begins to set up. Allow glue to fully cure (following manufacturer's recommended dry time) before installing it outdoors.

Secure in Container Garden

Visually locate the center of the top container. Use your finger to make a small pilot hole in the soil to help guide the end of the plant support into position. Press evenly on the top of the plate to firmly secure bee bath in the soil.

Add Stones + Water

This bee bath not only adds a pretty finishing touch to your container garden, it also provides our hard-working friends with a source of clean water. Bees collect water for a variety of reasons: to thin out honey (their stored food source) that has crystalized, to help with digestion and to create royal jelly to feed their larvae. Adding stones or seaglass gives bees a place to rest while they sip. Replenish the bee bath with a thin layer of water whenever you tend to the plants to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators stay hydrated.

More Blooms = More Pollinators

Many blooming plants that are beneficial to bees also attract other pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds and moths. Wasps, ants, flies, beetles and even mosquitoes also contribute to the pollination of our food crops.

Plan for Success

Keep clicking to learn what makes each of the plants we selected so special. But, first, a few general tips that'll make it easier for all of us to #savethebees and #protectthepollinators. 1. Never spray blooming plants with pesticide which bees could carry back to the hive, ultimately weakening or killing off the colony — this is one of the likely theories behind colony collapse disorder which is now a global and very serious threat. 2. When planting a container garden for pollinators, choose plants that have similar water and sunlight needs but with varying bloom times to provide pollen and nectar to our hardworking friends from spring till fall.

Echinacea or White Coneflower

A perennial that's native to most of the eastern and central US, Echinacea is easy to grow in either full sun or part shade and can tolerate an occasional dry spell. Available in a range of colors — from yellow to burgundy to the most popular shade: purple — add a few white coneflowers to your container garden because bees are particularly drawn to this color.

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower

A color variant of the white echinacea on the last slide, puple coneflower has all the same benefits (native to most of the US, drought-tolerant, a favorite of bees) with the added benefit of providing a pretty purple pop that butterflies also can't resist. Another bonus? Leave the spent blooms in place and, come fall, they'll lure goldfinches to your backyard to feast on the seeds.

Scaevola or Fairy Fan Flower

Every good planter needs a spiller — and this spiller is spectacular. A native of Australia, this sun-loving annual is drought tolerant, low maintenance and ideal for use in containers. The plants grow quickly and continuously put on a show during summer, drawing both butterflies and bees.

Gaillardia or Blanket Flower

A lush and hardy groundcover, this sun-loving perennial is drought tolerant when established. A long bloom season, from early summer through fall, and few insect or disease problems make these blooms a top choice for providing both pollen and nectar to a variety of bees, moths and butterflies.

Salvia, AKA Sage

A genus of plants that are found growing wild on every continent except Antarctica, salvia is a very diverse plant grouping that's attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, making these nectar-rich blooms a natural choice for any pollinator garden. Available in a rainbow of colors, these perennials feature a long bloom time that can be extended into early fall by deadheading after the plant's first flush.

Sunflower or Helianthus

Ranging in size from giant (up to 16 feet tall!) to dwarf (1-3 feet), sunflowers are a nectar and pollen motherlode for bees. What looks like simply a large brown or black center to us is actually a sea of tiny, nectar-rich blooms that bees can safely land on, then move across to harvest each flower's riches. And, sunflowers' benefit to wildlife doesn't end with pollinators. Leave the faded flowers in place to provide nutrient-rich seeds for a wide variety of birds in fall and winter.

Verbena Bonariensis or Purpletop Vervain

The upright form of this showy perennial (hardy to USDA Zones 7-10) loves full sun and provides repeat bloomings throughout summer and into fall. Self-seeding and drought tolerant, Verbena Bonariensis can reach heights of 1-3 feet, without requiring staking, and it's many highly-scented, tiny blooms are a favorite of all types of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and even dragonflies.

Pentas or Starflower

Typically grown as an annual, these easy-to-grow garden beauties can be overwintered in many regions to provide cheery garden color and draw butterflies like a magnet year after year. Available in shades of red, pink, purple and white, many gardeners report that the red blooms are particularly popular with hummingbirds as well.

Stokesia or Stokes Aster

Blooming from late spring through summer, these pretty posies pack a lot of pink, blue or purple blooms into a compact package. Originally a wildflower that's native to the southern US, established plants are hardy perennials that readily self-sow ensuring stunning blooms year after year. With deadheading, you can coax the gorgeous, abundant blooms to continue into fall as a much-needed late-season source of both pollen and nectar for a wide variety of bees, wasps and butterflies.

Yarrow

A flowering herb that also has medicinal uses and can be dried for fall or winter arrangements, yarrow is a low-maintenance perennial that tolerates drought and adds both texture (courtesy of its fernlike, silvery leaves) and a big boost of color to any container garden or bed. A favorite nectar source of bees, yarrow's wide, flat flowers also provide a comfortable resting spot and easy meal for many butterfly varieties including the endangered monarch butterfly.

Garden Phlox or Phlox Paniculata

Unlike its creeping groundcover cousin that provides a lush carpet of blooms in spring, this sturdy, upright variety reaches heights of 3-6 feet and puts on a colorful show from July till September (with a bit of deadheading). Favoring full sun to part shade, this self-seeding perennial is a top pick for pollinators — it's attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Trailing Verbena

Available as either a sun-loving annual or perennial (depending on your region), verbenas can take the heat while continuously putting on a colorful show with masses of tiny, brightly colored blooms that range in hue from white to shades of pink, red, lavender and blue. Blooming from spring till first frost, verbena is a popular food source for many butterfly species, bumblebees and hummingbirds.

Balloon Flower or Platycodon

Sun-loving perennials, these self-seeding blooms resemble small balloons in their bud stage, then open into large, star-shaped flowers with a nectar-rich center that attracts both bees and butterflies.

Zinnia

Annuals that are easy to grow from seed, zinnias have been called one of the hardest-working flowers in summer gardens — and for good reason: They're drought resistant, available in nearly every color imaginable, make great cut flowers and are well known for attracting a wide range of butterflies, including endangered monarchs. But their benefits don't end there, they're also a favorite of hummingbirds, moths and bees — and reseeding for next year's blooms is easy, just allow flowers to completely dry on the plant, then stash the dried seedhead in a labeled paper envelope in the fridge. Then, after spring's last frost, crumble the dried blooms over prepared soil and let Mother Nature take it from there.

Now, Sit Back and Enjoy the Show

Surround your completed container garden with cozy outdoor chairs where you can spend time enjoying the flowers' colorful, ever-changing display while watching a wide variety of pollinators busily harvesting each bloom.

And, Take Pride in Doing Your Part

We can all help #savethebees. Whether you're an avid gardener or just enjoy eating food (seriously, pollinators are to thank for 1 in 3 bites you consume), planting a pollinator-friendly container garden is a small act that makes a big difference.

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