How to Create a Pollinator Friendly Garden

Home landscapes composed of patio or deck space, walkways and lawn areas aren’t very bee-friendly, but making them more appealing to pollinators, isn’t hard to do. Here are a few things to consider when making your home garden a more pollinator-friendly space.

Pollinators need three things to thrive: a source of food, a source of water, and a source of shelter. Pollinator gardens provide all three of these while creating a more enjoyable outdoor living space. Include Lots of Variety

Pollinators enjoy variety. Choose a selection of plants that:

  • flower at different times – aim to have plants in flower from spring until fall;
  • have different flower shapes – daisy-shaped, bell-shaped, and trumpet-shaped flowers are some of the best;
  • add annuals that bloom repeatedly, such as Alysum, Annual Sunflower, Calendula, Cosmos, Dahlia, Heliotrope, Lantana, Lavatera, Nemesia, Perennial Sweet Pea, Verbena and Zinnia, to name a few provide additional sources of pollen and nectar. Include a few vegetables and herbs, too. Selections suitable for container growing are particularly good choices where space is restricted. Herbs like Dill, Lovage, Parsley and Rue are excellent host plants for feeding caterpillars.
  • avoid using plants with double flowers – double flowers have tighter petal arrangements that make it hard for pollinators to feed. Also many double flowers are sterile and produce very little if any pollen or nectar;

Add Plants in Groups

Add perennials and annuals in clusters of three or more plants. Areas that are sparsely planted are less inviting to pollinators, and massing helps fill gardens out faster for a nicer looking garden sooner with fewer weeds.

Include Lots of Colour

Make your pollinator garden colourful – include lots of yellow, blue, mauve and purple, as well as orange and white. Not all pollinators see colour the same way, and many have specific plant preferences. A broad variety of plants encourages a broad selection of wildlife visitors.

Include Fragrant Plants

Add fragrance from plants with scented flowers and aromatic leaves. Plants like species roses (Rosa rugosa, Rosa canina, Rosa multiflora) Lavender, and any of common culinary herbs are essential additions to a pollinator garden and can be grown in containers for display on decks or patios, or used in window boxes and wall planters.

Include Native Plants

Native plants are often a preferred source of nectar and pollen for native bees.

Cultivated selections of native plants now account for many of today’s hottest plant selections, so adding them to your garden has never been easier. For more information on native plants and nativars, click on the link below.

Provide a Source of Water

Aside from the water found in nectar itself, pollinators drink from shallow puddles and from water that accumulates on plant leaves and flowers. Supplement this with additional water by filling shallow trays with small stones and placing these on the ground near groups of plants. Fill each tray with just enough water to cover most of the stones, leaving the top layer dry. Add water to the tray as needed.

Provide Some Shelter

Ornamental grasses, medium and low growing shrubs, provide areas where pollinators can rest when not actively feeding. On larger properties, small patches of bare ground will provide nesting sites for bumblebees and piles of branch litter can also provide places of refuge.

Provide Pollinators with Host Plants that Support New Generations

Butterflies require specific plants on which they can lay eggs, and which later feed the young generation. Monarch butterflies, for example need milkweed on which to lay eggs and later feed until the young butterflies mature into nectar feeding adults. For more on Milkweed, see our list of links at the end of this article.

Go Organic!

Watch your garden closely for pests and disease, and treat outbreaks as soon as possible to keep problems small and containable. Use eco-friendly products when treatments are needed. Note: – Always use caution when spraying. Avoid excessive drift and spray during calm weather (usually early morning is the best time to spray.)

Looking After a Pollinator Garden

Pollinator-friendly plants tolerate a wide range of growing conditions and perform best when water and fertilizer are applied sparingly. Too much water and fertilizer weakens plant growth, diminishes flowering and encourages disease. Also, feeding too often can reduce pollen production.

When watering, aim to deliver 1-inch of water to the garden per week (including any rain that falls.) Spot-water plants that show signs of drought-stress in late summer.

Apply a slow release organic fertilizer in early spring for the first few seasons only, and start watering after spring rains become less frequent (less than once a week.)

Restrict your fall clean-up to include only diseased plant parts – peonies for instance should be cut down to a few inches above the ground in order to reduce the incidence of Powdery Mildew. Fallen leaves should be removed if they reach a depth of more than 2-inches. Fallen leaves make an excellent organic mulch that will breakdown and fortify the soil. However, if the leaves show signs of disease (like Tar Spot, Chestnut Blight, or Powdery Mildew,) completely remove them.

Avoid cutting your garden down to the ground in fall. Let grasses and seed heads stand until spring. Doing so helps trap snow which insulates plants from the cold, and makes for a more interesting winter landscape.

Annuals and vegetables when used will need more water, especially if they are growing in containers or window boxes. Check vegetables for dryness morning and late afternoon and deep water when needed.


Click on the links below for more information about bees and other pollinators:


A Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario

How to Create a Pollinator-friendly Garden

Roadsides – A Guide to Creating a Pollinator Patch

Seeds of Diversity Article: Pollinator Gardens

University of Guelph, Honey Bee Research Centre – Creating a Bee-friendly Garden


All about milkweed plants

Beyond Pesticides – Tips and articles dealing with Organic growing

Buzz About Bees

Penn State: Centre for Pollinator Research

Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild – Trees and Shrubs for Bees

Pollinator Partnership Organization

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture – Pollinator Protection

USDA National Agroforestry Centre – Improving Forage for Native Bee Crop Pollinators

USDA National Agroforestry Centre – Improving Nesting Sites for Native Bee Crop Pollinators