You are here

Creating a Pollinator Garden

Publication Number: P3839
View as PDF: P3839.pdf

One-third of the foods we eat rely on pollinators. Pollinators travel from plant to plant carrying pollen on their bodies. This vital interaction allows the transfer of genetic material critical to the reproductive systems of many flowering plants. These are the very plants that bring us countless fruits, vegetables, and nuts and provide half of the world’s oils, fibers, and raw materials. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.

Who are the pollinators? Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and, most importantly, bees. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed from pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from plant to plant.

Bees

There are 14 types of bees in Mississippi, 13 of which are pollinators. They are bumblebees, honeybees, carpenter bees, long-horned bees, sweat bees, squash bees, digger bees, polyester bees, masked bees, cuckoo bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, miner bees, and wasps. Table 1 describes Mississippi’s bees and their preferred plants.

A bee in the center of a light yellow flower.

Table 1. Types of bees in Mississippi.

Bee

Description

Preferred Plants

Bumble bee

Feed on flower nectar and collect pollen to feed young.

Butterfly weed, summersweet, false indigo

Western honeybee

Only group of bees that produce honey.

Asters, goldenrod, sunflowers

Carpenter bee

Pollinate wildflowers, fruit trees, and garden plants.

Salvia, lavender, Golden Day lilies, poppies

Long-horned bee

Primarily solitary and pollinate wildflower prairies and sunflowers.

Wildflowers and sunflowers

Sweat bee

Attracted to sweat as they need to consume salt to live.

Most attracted to white, blue, and violet flowers

Squash bee

Specialist pollinators that visit only squash family blooms.

Squash blossoms

Digger bee

Nest in the ground and build homes from mud.

Any flowering plants near nest site

Polyester bee

Apply a coating to the inside of nests that dries into a plasticky, waterproof coating.

Preferred flower is different for individual species

Masked bee

Carry pollen internally and regurgitate it to feed young.

Goldenrod

Cuckoo bee

Cleptoparasitic, meaning to lay a single egg in another’s nest. The hatched egg kills all other larva and eats stored pollen.

Not a pollinator

Mason bee

Kept on farms to be highly efficient pollinators. Drop pollen on most every flower visited.

 

Leafcutter bee

Line nests with tiny circles of leaves.

Wildflowers, gardens, and commercial plants

Miner bee

Dig through dry earth, clay, and even mortar to make nests.

Woodland wildflowers, shrubs, and trees

Wasp

These important pollinators feed on pollen and nectar instead of meat.

 

Butterflies

Though we most often enjoy and appreciate the winged adults, understanding the entire butterfly life cycle is important. A butterfly’s life begins as an egg laid on a host plant, usually on the leaf bottoms, and the eggs can vary widely in shape, form, size, and color. Within 2 weeks, the tiny eggs hatch and caterpillars emerge and consume the host plant’s leaves. They consume numerous leaves over the next 2–5 weeks and then pupate to form a chrysalis. This turns into a butterfly in 1–2 weeks depending on the species. Gardens need host plants (Table 2) for egg-laying and nectar plants as a food source.

Add native plants (Table 3) to your landscape as they provide an excellent source of food and shelter for pollinators. They also can require less watering, fertilization, and other maintenance than traditional landscape plants.

Some non-native nectar plants that attract pollinators include butterfly bush, Mexican sunflower, tall verbena, lantana, lavender, Japanese honeysuckle, and Mexican petunia.

An orange and black butterfly on an orange lantana bloom.

Table 2. Host plants for egg-laying.

Butterfly

Host Plant

Pearl crescent

Aster

Painted lady

Hollyhock

Monarch

Milkweed

Swallowtail

Parsley

Gulf fritillary

Passionflower

Spicebush swallowtail

Spicebush

Mourning cloak

Birch tree

Admiral, red-spotted purple

Cottonwood tree

Table 3. Native pollinator plants.

Plant

Attracts

Aster

Butterflies

Bee balm

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies

Coneflower

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies

Coreopsis

Bees and butterflies

Whirling butterfly bush

Bees and butterflies

Milkweed varieties

Many different butterflies

Oakleaf hydrangea

Bees and butterflies

Button bush

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies

Lanceleaf tickseed

Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies

Birds

Most people know that hummingbirds are pollinators, but more than 50 species of birds in North America consume nectar. The Baltimore oriole, yellow-bellied sapsucker, scarlet tanager, and Tennessee warbler are a few. Hummingbirds need several resources, including flowers with nectar, trees to nest in and perch on, and a source of water. Hummingbirds do prefer red flowers but will feed from other flowers (Table 4).

Table 4. Flowers that attract and are pollinated by hummingbirds.

Plant

Hummingbird Resources

Scarlet buckeye

nectar

Trumpet creeper

nectar

Summersweet

nectar

Coral honeysuckle

nectar

Bee balm

nectar

Beardtongue

nectar

Obedient plant

nectar

Azalea

nectar, perch

Petunia

nectar

Sage

nectar

Pollinator Garden Construction

Size

Start small to see how the garden grows, and expand as needed. It may be easiest to start off using pots or containers, then move to in-ground plantings or raised beds.

Location

Most pollinator plants require full sun, but many can also thrive in partial sun. Late-afternoon sun can sometimes be too hard on pollinators, so a little shade during the day can be beneficial. A water source should be easily accessible. Consider if the garden will be in a permanent location or in pots that can be moved to different locations.

Planting Tips

Remember that black pots get very hot in direct sun. Bubble wrap as a liner inside the pot will help keep the plant’s roots cool. Drainage holes are a must for any pot or container. For an in-ground pollinator garden, some type of edging material will be needed. Brick, plastic or metal edging, concrete blocks, or wood will all work.

To attract more pollinators, consider providing a diversity of species that bloom in succession from spring through fall. Include a variety of flower colors, shapes, and sizes, and plant in groups of three or more of the same plant to help pollinators locate them.

When preparing the area, remove all weeds or grass by hand, with a tiller, or with an appropriately labeled herbicide. Read the label and wait the recommended number of days before installing plants. A weed barrier can be used but may interfere with future plantings. A soaker hose on top of the bed area can slowly irrigate the plants without washing away any leaves or mulch. Lastly, install the plants and label each one with a permanent tag. Soon there will be butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds all over the garden.

A hummingbird hovers while feeding on a bright-pink flower.

Resources

Pollinator Conservation Program

Pollinator Partnership

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

References

Eierman, K. (2020). The pollinator victory garden. Quarry Books.

14 Types of Bees in Mississippi!

High Country Gardens

The information given here is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products, trade names, or suppliers are made with the understanding that no endorsement is implied and that no discrimination against other products or suppliers is intended.


Publication 3839 (POD-11-22)

By Jeff Wilson, PhD, Assistant Professor, North Mississippi Research and Extension Center; Donna Kovach, Master Gardener, Marshall County; and Susan McGukin, Extension Associate, Lee County.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is working to ensure all web content is accessible to all users. If you need assistance accessing any of our content, please email the webteam or call 662-325-2262.

Select Your County Office

Authors

Portrait of Dr. Jeff Wilson
Assistant Professor
Horticulture: State Master Gardener Coordinator
Portrait of Ms. Susan McGukin
Extension Program Associate
Lee County Master Gardener Coordinator

Related Publications

Pages