Pollinators The Friends Your Garden Needs

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Most of us have a basic understanding of what pollination means, but do we fully understand what a vital force pollination has over the beauty and bounty that surrounds us? Let’s take a look at the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that are endemic to Tennessee by exploring ways in which we can make our gardens more inviting.

Pollinators are essential to a garden’s success, which can certainly be measured by beauty, though more quantitatively by a good harvest. These animals and insects of various small sizes are essential to the world’s food supply, responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.

For the healthiest and most pollinator-friendly garden, plant lush layers of floral clumps. Focus on using several individuals of 5-7 different plants that together can ensure an extended bloom period, from March until frost or longer. Ask yourself if the plants you want to use are well-behaved while also providing effective habitats for the pollinators you want to attract, leaning more towards native species when in doubt.

However, natives aren’t the only thing to consider when selecting plants. Bees prefer any open-faced, or single-flowered blooms, like echinacea or hibiscus and flowers with exposed or long cylindrical centers like Ratibida (Mexican hat plant) and Eryngium (seaholly).

Double-flowered blooms just make it too much of a challenge for bees and some other pollinators to access pollen and nectar. Besides growing plants that pollinators use for food, there are several other things that can be done within the garden to encourage bees and butterflies to stick around. Planting a row of shrubs or even using a fence can shelter the habitat or garden from wind that can be disruptive to the habitat.

Situating your garden in a sunny location is good not only for pollinator-loving plants, but for the insects themselves. Butterflies, in general need warm wings (a minimum of 58 degrees is required) and the sun also helps them with orientation.

A reliable water source is also vital for happy insects. Making a little water oasis with a shallow, pebble-filled container and keeping it fresh will ensure that the bees have plenty of clean drinking water.

For inspiration for pollinatorrich gardens, be sure to visit the Wills Perennial Garden and Howe Garden at Cheekwood. Both are different in terms of the plant material and the pollinators they attract.

The Wills Perennial Garden offers a healthy mixture of natives and non-natives, including the early-flowering Ribes odoratum (native) which attracts bees and hummingbirds, and the later-flowering purple top verbena or Verbena bonariensis, a South American native that will flower until frost, attracts goldfinches.

The Wills Perennial Garden also hosts a healthy planting of Asclepias curassavica that serves as a Monarch butterfly host plant. The Howe Garden is a nearly native garden, staying true to its mission statement and the namesake’s (Cora Howe) legacy, growing many Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), native azaleas, and Tennessee coneflower.

By fostering gardens for pollinators, we can help offset agricultural spraying and land development contributing to the resulting habitat loss while creating a slice of beauty for ourselves and our neighbors to appreciate. Start small and use plants that create good habitat, minimize pesticide use, and conserve water and soil. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your garden will flourish by accommodating our pollinator friends!

Written by Shanna Jones,

Plant Collections Manager

at Cheekwood.








By Shanna Jones, Plant Collections Manager at Cheekwood

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