More than 70% of the flowering plants in the world depend on pollination, which is essential for the production of fruits and seeds. This includes about a third of the world’s food crops.
Colorado’s native pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps, hummingbirds, and bats. When a pollinator enters a flower, grains of pollen adhere to its body. By moving from flower to flower, the pollinator transfers these pollen grains to flowers of the same species, resulting in cross-pollination and plant production.
Pollinators need food, water, shelter, and nesting spaces, collectively called 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 on a wide variety of plants, but some pollinators have specialized relationships with native plants. These “specialists” may only be able to feed themselves from one or two types of plants. They may require specific plants to pass from eggs to adults. For example, many butterflies sip nectar from non-native plants, but the eggs must be laid on specific plants, otherwise the caterpillar will not recognize the plant as food. Thus, the larval stage of insects should also be taken into account when choosing plants for your home garden. Including a wide range of natives and non-natives in your garden will help make it a top destination for pollinators.
Your garden habitat should contain a mix of plant species so that flowering times extend from early spring to late fall. Overlapping flowering times will ensure that there is something available in your garden to provide nutrition throughout the season of pollinator activity. 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 find it easier to find plants in gardens where there are larger clumps or “drifts” of color. Plant at least three of each selected plant and plant them next to each other. Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with “doubled” flowers. These “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 the package label.
Pollinators overwinter at different stages of their life: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Some overwinter in hollow stems, while others attach to plants or overwinter in leaf litter. Unless a disease is present, such as powdery mildew, leave your perennials standing all winter and clean your garden most of the time in the spring. It will also provide wintery visual interest.
Submit your gardening questions to [email protected] or call 520-7684. In-person support is open 9 am to noon and 1 to 4 pm Mondays and Wednesdays at 17 N. Spruce St. Find on Facebook at Colorado Master Gardeners – El Paso County.