Attract pollinators to your garden

Until I started working with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, I used to be extremely annoyed with all the insects buzzing around my garden, swatting away these creatures while walking to class on campus. I never gave it a second thought that they were actually doing something useful. The more I learned from experts in the field, the more appreciation I gained for the pollinators native to Nevada such as bees, butterflies, beetles, moths, wasps, flies, ants, bats and hummingbirds.

Pollinators are a crucial part of agricultural systems and the environment. More than two-thirds of the world’s crop species rely on pollinators. Our native pollinators are often better pollinators of fruits and vegetables because they are more adapted to the climate here in Nevada. These beneficial creatures continue to face many challenges such as loss of habitat, use of pesticides, introduction of disease and changes in food availability because of weather pattern fluctuations. You can help bring pollinators to your garden with a few design tips.

butterfly on flower
Butterflies like brightly colored flowers with wide landing pads. Photo by Leilani Konyshev, Cooperative Extension.

When designing a pollinator planting, remember to consider your overall landscape and how the new habitat will function with your intended use of the garden. You will also want to consider species diversity, when plants bloom, plant density and the inclusion of grasses for weed control and soil stabilization. Try to use native plants in your landscape, such native wildflowers. Native wildflowers have several advantages over many of the introduced species because they are well adapted to the soils and climate and have lower water use after establishment.

Include flowering plants – these are great nectar and pollen sources for pollinators. Plan your garden to have plants that will bloom early in the spring and late in the fall to ensure food supplies for the pollinators. Different pollinators are attracted to different types of flowers. For example, flowers that bloom at night tend to attract moths. Moths also like flowers that have a strong sweet odor with tubular or regular shaped flowers without a lip.

Bees tend to seek out bright white, yellow or blue flowers with a fresh, mild and pleasant odor that has sticky and scented pollen. Bees like a flower shape that is shallow and has a tubular landing platform. Beetles are attracted dull white or green flowers that have a low odor output or are strongly fruity, and they like ample pollen and are attracted to large bowl-shaped flowers.

Bright and colorful flowers tend to attract pollinators that are also bright in color. Birds tend to be attracted to flowers that are scarlet, orange, red or white in color with a large funnel shape and strong perch support. Butterflies like brightly colored flowers, including reds and purples, that have narrow tubes with spurs and a wide landing pad.

Contact the Master Gardener office in Washoe County at 775-336-0265 for additional resources and information sheets about native flowers that may help you with creating a great pollinator habitat in your garden.

Leilani Konyshev is the Master Gardener Program coordinator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Washoe County. Have questions about your plants? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu. And visit www.growyourownnevada.com.