Pollinator Habitat

Creating habitat for pollinators

Whether you are starting a brand new garden or already have an established one, intentionally considering habitat for native pollinators is extremely important. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, animal pollinators are directly responsible for pollinating more than 35% of the world's food crops and 75% of the world's flowering plants! It is true the plight of pollinators has begun to grab the attention of many people the past few years. However, even with this attention, pollinator numbers continue to decline. The spotlight needs to be brighter.

We have compiled a list of simple ways to make your garden habitat more pollinator-friendly. We have also begun a list of resources to help you along this journey. As this site develops, more content will be added to this page. To stay abreast of the additions, check back on a regular basis, become an active participant in our forum and sign up to receive our newsletters

Make Your Garden Habitat More Pollinator-Friendly

  • As a class project, build a native pollinator house: see some examples
  • Leave some patches of ground exposed and bare (no mulch or compost): many native pollinators nest in the ground
  • Add old, weathered stumps, limbs or logs: attractive, "natural" touch that provides habitat for pollinators (and can be great seats for your human visitors)
  • Provide a water source: rain garden, fountain, bird bath, water garden, etc.
  • Plant native plants as much as possible: see below resources for guidance
  • Many popular, hybrid plants are cultivated to have a "perfect" flower (ex. plants with "double" flowers), although they commonly produce little to no nectar
  • Choose a wide variety of plants that cover the range of bloom colors: some pollinators are attracted to certain colors, so representing as many colors as possible in your garden will provide options
  • Select some plants that bloom in the evening and at night: there are many important crepuscular and nocturnal pollinators, such as moths and bats
  • Choose flowering plants for each season: plant as many nectar plants as your bioregion will support, from the earliest bulb flowers in spring to the latest fall and winter bloomers
    • Bumblebees have an annual cycle, so the spring-emerging  queens rely on early spring nectar sources (flowers, shrubs, trees) in order to start their colonies
  • Plant in clumps rather than single plants
  • Plant host plants: most butterfly and moth caterpillars depend on specific plants for food and/or egg-laying...see below for host plant lists
  • Leave some dead plant stalks/seed heads over the winter: stalks can provide habitat or perches for birds, while seeds provide a food source
  • Don't use synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals: if you must use something, there are plenty of organic options, and spray at night when pollinators are least active
    • Never use pesticides containing chemicals in the neonicotinoid family
    • If, as a last resort, you must use herbicides, use selective ones that only target the plant you are attempting to combat; nonselective spraying with herbicides with glyphosate (ex. Roundup) will kill any plant it comes into contact with
  • Avoid heavy raking and manicuring of your garden

Resources to Support your Habitat Garden

  • The Pollinator Partnership

    A fantastic organization to become familiar with. The Pollinator Partnership is the largest nonprofit in the world dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

  • Ecoregional Planting Guides

    This excellent resource developed by the Pollinator Partnership, provides native planting guides for 32 United States ecoregions and two Canadian ecoregions. Each guide comes as a 24 page, downloadable pdf, and contains general information about pollinators as well as pollinator friendly plant lists tailored to the specific ecoregion.

  • Pollinator-Friendly Plants

    Pollinator plant lists broken into eight United States' regions. These downloadable, PDF files were developed by the Xerces Society.

  • Plants for Butterfly and Pollinator Gardens (PDF)

    An information-packed spreadsheet containing native and non-native pollinator and host plants suitable for schools and homes in the eastern United States, developed by us here at Monarch Watch.

  • Nesting Habitat

    The Great Pollinator Project has some great, general information regarding pollinator nesting habitat.

  • Nests for Native Bees

    A Xerces Society native bee fact sheet that includes instructions for creating nesting habitat for wood-nesting and cavity-nesting bees, ground-nesting bees and bumblebees.

  • Red List Bees: Native Bees in Decline

    A comprehensive summary of status and distribution of all the red listed bees of North America, including profile links for each species. Another great resource developed by the Xerces Society.