Fall Is a Great Time to Add a Pollinator Garden

— Written By Anelle Ammons
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butterflyIf you love to watch butterflies, birds, and bees, building a pollinator garden is a great way to draw them in close for you to watch and photograph. While many of our insect pollinators are migrating out for the winter or getting ready to hibernate, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare a new garden, or renovate an existing bed, to benefit pollinators. In fact, fall is an ideal time for planting perennials, trees, and shrubs so that your plants can continue growing strong root systems during cooler months and be better equipped for the drought of next summer. If you’re interested in developing pollinator habitat, these tips might assist you in your design.

When choosing plants to support pollinators, it’s important to remember that they will need food throughout the spring, summer, and fall. You will want to choose a diversity of plants so that the timing of their blooms is not all at the same time. The more types of plants that you choose, the more options pollinators will have for food, and different types of pollinators will be drawn to your garden.

While many pollinators benefit from a variety of plants in the landscape, it is extra beneficial if you can incorporate plants native to North Carolina. These plants are better adapted to our local climate and growing conditions, so they aren’t as labor intensive as plants from other parts of the world. Several species of insects only lay their eggs on one or two species, so those native plants are required for them to complete their lifecycle. By incorporating these species into your yard, you will benefit from their beauty and also support local pollinators.

Another key idea in building a pollinator garden is to remember to provide food and shelter for all aspects of the life cycle of the pollinators. Flowers are great for feeding adult bees and butterflies, but they need places to lay their eggs and a food source for their larvae. Native bee species typically nest in bare soil in the ground or in hollow stems and twigs. You can leave bare areas under some shrubs for them, or you can build a bee hotel by drilling holes in blocks of wood and placing them under a protected area. Butterfly larvae need different plants from the adults, such as dill or fennel for Swallowtail butterflies or milkweed for Monarch butterflies. The larvae will eat heavily on the plants until they transform, so don’t be alarmed. These plants are well adapted to this behavior and typically recover quickly once the caterpillars move away and turn into chrysalises before becoming adult butterflies.

Once you’ve drawn your design and chosen your plants, you can plant them when the weather cools off, and they will get a great start before the spring. Don’t forget to add trees and shrubs to benefit your pollinators, as well, and before you know it, you’ll be enjoying pollinators right outside your home. If you need help picking plants or want to learn more, join us for an upcoming class in November on Gardening for 4 Season Interest or give us a call at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Catawba County Center at 828-465-8240.