Monarch butterflies are on the move. They’re traveling from the Northeast to their winter home in Mexico. And as they travel, they might stop in your neighborhood for sips of nectar from flowers. But what if none of the yards offer a tasty snack for monarchs or other pollinators? You can change that. And October is a good time to start.
We talked to two experts at Smithsonian Gardens for pointers on creating a home garden to attract pollinators. James Gagliardi and Sylvia Schmeichel are the horticulturalists responsible for the large pollinator garden outside the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. It features 230 plant species to attract pollinators and host their eggs.
They encourage kids (and their parents) to think about a variety of animals when planning a garden.
“Move beyond monarchs,” Gagliardi said. “Different pollinators connect with different plants in different ways. Beetles are pollinators. Hummingbirds, flies, bees, moths.”
Gagliardi suggests finding out which plants are native to your area and seeing what those plants attract. Mountain mint, asters and goldenrod are a few of his suggestions.
“Plant a variety that bloom all year long,” Schmeichel said. “If there is a particular pollinator you want, read about what they like.”
And you don’t have to have a large planting space.
“You can even do it in a container on your balcony,” she said.
Using seeds or plants depends on the time and money you can spend.
“I like to use plant material because I’m impatient,” Gagliardi said.
Some flowers come from bulbs, which require a bit of patience. You plant bulbs such as daffodils, crocuses and snow drops in the fall, and they flower in the spring. Thinking ahead is important for creating a welcome spot for pollinators in every season.
“You know that on a warm day at the end of winter you start to see insect activity, and there’s places for them to eat,” Gagliardi said.
Providing year-round food for pollinators has benefits well beyond your yard. Pollinated plants provide berries and seeds that other wild animals eat. And about 35 percent of the world’s food crops rely on pollinators. So at your next meal, you might consider something Schmeichel mentioned: “Every third bite of food is thanks to a pollinator.”
Visit the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden on the east side of the National Museum of Natural History. Until December 2020, the garden features a Bug B&B, which includes creative nesting sites for insects. Find out more at gardens.si.edu/exhibitions/habitat/bug-bb.
The National Wildlife Federation offers a native plant finder. Type in your Zip code to see which plants are native to your area and how many butterfly and moth species use them as hosts for caterpillars at nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/plants.
Be part of a citizen science project related to pollinators. Find out about several at scistarter.org/pollinatorgardens.