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4 easy ways to boost pollinators in your garden

With the success of “No Mow May,” seasoned gardeners and newbies alike are thinking about how their yards and gardens can affect the creatures that visit and call it home.Bees are always top of mind, with recent die-offs of honeybees across Canada showing the harm that’s occurring due to climate change. Pollinators don’t just include bees, though; insects like wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles, and even hummingbirds and bats all help pollen travel between plants.

Many plants we grow for food require pollination for a successful harvest, so providing a safe space in your yard to feed and shelter pollinators can boost the productivity of your garden and support agriculture in your community.

Plant native species
To attract pollinators, opt for native and heritage varieties of plants and shrubs. In Nova Scotia, these include bleeding heart, rhododendron, primrose, aster, cone flower, Joe Pye weed, brown-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, goldenrod, sedum, pussy willow, lilac, salvia and lupin. Find them in the perennial section of your garden store, at community plant sales or from a generous green-thumb neighbour – gardeners are always separating, cutting back and moving perennials, and they’re often happy to share.

If attracting butterflies is your jam, don’t forget to have host plants that will support the caterpillar stage of their development – things like violets, vetch, clover, plants from the parsley family and milkweed. Milkweed is the only plant where endangered monarch butterflies can lay their eggs.

Spice it up
Plant a variety of blooming plants so you’ll have flowers from spring until late autumn. Pollinators love vibrant blooms that are red, orange, yellow, purple and blue. Some options include bee balm, bachelor buttons, sunflowers, weigela, hydrangea, cosmos, zinnias, honeysuckle and foxglove. If you have space, create a few sheltered wild spots in your garden or yard where pollinators can rest and nest. Butterflies love large flat rocks where they can warm themselves. If you want to attract bumblebees, try making your own bee hotel.

Avoid lawn and garden chemicals and pesticides
All pesticides, even so-called organic ones, are harmful to bees and other pollinators. Try to attract beneficial insects like soldier beetles, lacewings, ladybugs and hoverflies that will eat slugs and aphids, including their eggs. Growing things like nasturtium, sweet alyssum and calendula will draw the good bugs to your garden.

Note: If you’re not keen on having bumblebee nests in your yard, don’t reach for pesticide – some Nova Scotians have started a business relocating unwanted bumblebee nests and can help. To help prevent nests, including wasp nests, hang up a decoy nest (just a brown paper bag stuffed with paper).

Leave things alone
Don’t rush to clean up your yard in the spring and fall. In the spring, wait until there have been at least five consecutive days of warm weather (above 10 degrees Celsius) before tidying up the dead leaves and plants left from winter. In the fall, let the dead stalks, leaves and other plant debris overwinter in your garden, giving insects a cozy place to burrow and materials for bird nests. Rake leaves onto your garden beds to provide extra protection.

Remember: What might seem like a small contribution – a tiny patio planter or a small garden plot – can make a big difference to the pollinators and beneficial insects in your outdoor space.

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