Amy Whitney has been gardening in NW Georgia for more than 20 years. Before moving there, she gardened on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where growing food was MUCH easier. She’s learned a lot, and keeps learning more every season.Â You can read all about her gardening adventures at Atlanta Veggies.
I get to talk with lots of local gardeners in my daily life, and some have complained about a lack of honeybees in their vegetable gardens. The news is not really news to me, because we lived in this area for 7 years before I saw a honeybee in our yard.
The fact that I didn’t see any might not seem super-amazing to non-gardeners, especially considering how small honeybees are. Most gardeners, though, will understand that I actually was looking for them.
When we first moved to this area, about 25 years ago, we started planting fruits and vegetables right away. Happily, the garden produced plenty of good food, even without the honeybees; native pollinators like bumblebees, flies, wasps, and butterflies were busy doing a lot of good work for us!
We didn’t know at the time how lucky we were. Some gardeners are trying to grow food in what are almost desert-like swaths of green. There is plenty of one kind of grass, and a limited assortment of shrubs and ornamental trees, most of which bloom all together in early spring, but most pollinators need nectar and pollen sources for more than just a few weeks, and they need more than will be growing in just one garden.
Providing spaces for pollinators to hide from predators, for them to get water, for their immature stages (like caterpillars) to eat, grow, and change, also will help keep local pollinator populations healthy.
In this season of seed catalogs and planning, we can remember the critters that help our gardens grow and produce abundantly by choosing to grow some plants just for our insect friends.
In my own yard, for pollinators, I grow zinnias (butterflies and hummingbirds), annual salvia (bumblebees and hummingbird moths), mint-family herbs including salvia, anise hyssop, three kinds of mint, oregano, and thyme (more kinds of bees, little wasps, and flies-that-mimic bees than I can count), borage (all kinds of bees), sunflowers (bees), parsley (caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies eat the leaves; bees, wasps, and flies visit the flowers), passion flower (caterpillars of Gulf Fritillary butterfly eat the leaves), comfrey (bumblebees), and an assortment of native plants such as Joe Pye weed and silky dogwood that attract the whole range of pollinators available in the yard.
It probably also helps that I have a “freedom lawn” in which spaces between the grass are filled with clover, dandelion, violet, chickweed, button weed, and other flowering plants that provide – when considered together – year-round sources of nectar and pollen.
To find out which plants will support a wide-range of pollinators in all their life stages for different areas of the United States, check out your region’s “Selecting Plants for Pollinators” handbook, which are all free downloads from Pollinator Partnership.