While this spring hasn’t been favourable for gardening for many Canadians, there will be opportunity to do it this summer.
And when you do, don’t forget to consider pollinators, who can benefit from a garden and yard tailored to their needs.
Because they are responsible for pollinating at least one of every three bites of food you eat, it is important to provide them with shelter and food sources. There are many ways to support pollinators – from keeping your yard untidy and creating shelters to sprucing up your gardens with native flowers.
“It’s incredibly important for us to embed our community with more pollinators. Our climate is changing and we know that gardens do a couple of different things when it comes to climate,” said Lisa Kohler, HEN executive director, in an interview with The Weather Network in 2019.
POLLINATOR GARDENS CAN BECOME ‘CARBON SINKS’
Planting a garden at the Solel Synagogue in 2018. (Laura Irvine)
Gardens can sequester carbon and remove emissions from the atmosphere, filtering it into a “carbon sink,” Kohler said, on their environmental benefits.
She recommends people install pollinator gardens with native species because they have “so much added value” and will develop and expand quicker than other varieties.
For example, less watering is required and they won’t need as much additional soil or chemicals, as this type of garden has a natural process.
“Native gardens help with sequestration, but they also help with enhancing our communities’ resiliencies when it comes to drought resistance, weather resistance, etc.,” said Kohler. “Pollinator [gardens] will service our ecosystems so much better than a typical garden.”
These types of gardens are also one of the easiest to install because the maintenance isn’t as substantial as other kinds, she said, noting information on setting them up is readily available online or by contacting your local conservation authority.
THOUSANDS OF NATIVE PLANTS
There are thousands of native plant species in Canada, growing in different sizes, colours, shapes and in different parts of the three-cycle season (spring, summer and fall).
Though Kohler noted one of the more ideal types is the milkweed because it is a “very drought-resistant” and resilient plant, one that is easy to replicate in many communities with seeds left over to produce additional flowers. It is particularly helpful to butterflies and bees.
Common milkweed. (Tracy Ducasse)
Sunflowers are a common native plant that are “beacons for pollinators” because of their heights, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
They’re also good sources of nectar and pollen for honeybees, bumblebees and other wild bee species, as well as butterflies and other beneficial insects. It is suggested to leave the flower in the garden as a natural fall and winter bird feeder, which is “much loved by chickadees.”
Giant sunflower. (Lou Anderson).
If you’re unsure where a plant is from, the Nature Conservancy of Canada advises you to talk to garden centre staff about where their plants are grown since numerous nurseries import plants from far distances. You can also ask about the growing season for each plant and which ones would be most suited to your backyard conditions.
Finding native species can be as simple as buying a packet of seeds, containing the right types, said Andrea Rowe, garden facilitator for Greening Sacred Spaces, a HEN program, in a 2019 interview with The Weather Network.
Some of the species include milkweed, purple cone flower, black-eyed Susan, and New England aster, among others. Because of some them require more time and effort to clean up at the end of the growing season, Rowe recommends planting a shrub as a low-maintenance, cost-effective alternative.
“[Make] sure you have something for each of the three seasons. If you are going to do more formal planting and you really want a long-term benefit, it’s good to have spring, summer and fall flowering plants. That’s not always needed just in your backyard,” said Rowe.
Bumblebee. (Nathan Howes)
When it comes to creating and maintaining pollinator gardens, it’s important to consider the three-season cycle – spring, summer and fall.
This is to ensure are different colours at different points throughout the season, which will “really help encourage [pollinators], especially monarch butterflies, to come to our community,” Kohler said.
So when you’re looking for the ideal location in your backyard, find a spot where there is some access to sunlight and has some shelter from the wind, as you want to make sure the colors are “really robust throughout the season.”
“To have a pollinator garden be successful, it has different flowering times, so you want to have the three cycles. So a patch of colour happens throughout the growing season. That way it is a little more resilient for the pollinators,” said Kohler.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP POLLINATORS
It isn’t just pollinator gardens with native plants that will draw nature’s creatures to your yard. David Suzuki Foundation has some suggestions including building a butterfly garden, wild bee sanctuary and leaving a messy yard.
It is recommended to build homes where pollinators can lay eggs or overwinter. Bee boxes are a good example of a safe habitat that can be easily built with the help of your children.
You should also leave twig piles and bare ground in the spring, as Kohler encourages people to avoid raking their yards right now to provide habitat for the bees’ larvae.
Bee bundle. Photo: Conservation Halton.
“If people do have lawns, they should be leaving the leaves where they are because that is probably shelter for some of those species. It’s great to just leave the leaves where they are.”
WATCH BELOW: BEE BUSILY POLLINATING THE GARDENS OF LONDON, ONT.
Nathan Howes can be followed on Twitter: @HowesNathan.