Home & Garden

Bring back the bees: How to pull pollinators into your garden

Author Rhonda Fleming Hayes’ garden buzzes, beats and blooms, thanks to the thousands of hard-working pollinators in her eye-catching Minneapolis front yard. She’s one of the lucky ones: Nationally, bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators are threatened by habitat loss, parasites and pesticides. In her new book, “Pollinator-Friendly Gardening,” she offers practical steps gardeners can take to make a difference in the pollinator world. We talked with her about how to plant your own pollinator-magnet garden and more.

Q: What value do pollinators bring to our gardens?

A: Without bees and other pollinators like butterflies, birds, moths, flies and bats, our dinner plates would be lacking in color, flavor and nutrients. Bees are in trouble for a number of reasons, but the major issue is habitat loss, including millions and millions of acres just in our country. While many environmental issues are distant, abstract problems, the great thing about pollinators is we can help them right in our own backyards. Garden by garden, I hope we can make up for this habitat loss.

Q: What are five universal must-haves for a pollinator garden?

A: I recommend five natives – milkweed, aster, goldenrod, salvia and liatris. A couple bonus must-haves are zinnias and sunflowers since they’re so cheap and easy to grow and attract so many species of pollinators. My favorite moment this summer was when a hummingbird started harassing a monarch who was sitting on a ‘Moulin Rouge' zinnia in a stand of 20 other blooms and apparently ignoring a popular purple zinnia from the previous season. It’s funny what proves popular to every season.

Q: Besides flowers, what trees and shrubs are valuable to pollinators?

A: Don’t just think of a single flower bed, think about your whole yard – trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, herbs, vegetables and fruit bushes. They all have value for pollinators. Fruit trees are especially important in the spring time as one of the first major sources of nectar and pollen. Other sources are crab apples, linden, chestnut and tulip trees, and shrubs like chokeberry, serviceberry, lilac, raspberry brambles and blueberries.

Q: What are a few easy steps for homeowners to make their backyards more pollinator friendly?

A: First, plant more flowers. The busier people get, the more they choose foliage over flowering plants. But, those flowers are what are lacking for pollinators.

Second, avoid pesticide use. My book goes into great depth on this topic explaining why and when pesticides threaten pollinators and how to avoid using them. I have a visible, quarter-acre in the city and don’t find the need for pesticides. Still, I get great compliments all the time.

Third, allow for nesting sites. Honey bees go back to hives, but many wild bees are ground nesters and need bare soil for nesting. This can worry some people, because they don’t want to come upon a nest of bees with their mower or shovels. So I always say possibly there’s a corner of the yard, slope or unused area to leave unmulched for these nesting bees. Other bees use hollow stems or beetle tunnels in old logs for nesting, so consider leaving pruned debris and fallen branches in a spot for them.