How to create a pollinator-friendly garden

Ruby-throated hummingbird

What may seem like a small contribution — a tiny flower pot or patch — can provide valuable habitat for pollinators like hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. (Photo: Mark Moschell via Flickr)

Manicured lawns are a desert for pollinators (and most wildlife). But you can make your yard or garden a pollinator paradise!

In spring, leave twig piles and bare ground. Come summer, let veggies bolt. Provide a source of water and don’t rake all the fall leaves. Build homes where pollinators can lay eggs or overwinter.

Chances are you’re already taking steps to help pollinators — bees (wild and honeybees), butterflies and birds. That’s great! Not sure? Check your actions against these tips.

How to attract pollinators

Mining bees

Keep your yard messy

Transform your yard into a pollinator paradise. The secret? Keep it untidy!

Learn how to:

  • Keep parts of your yard untidy
  • Spot a bumblebee nest — even how to make one
  • Build a bug hotel with found materials!
Mining bee

Grow a wild bee sanctuary

Try these five simple steps and watch bees and other beneficial insects — ladybugs, butterflies and predatory wasps — use your DIY bee bath. Make a mason bee house.

Learn how to tell bees from wasps or flies

If it’s cute, it’s probably a bee. Interested in the barbecue? Likely a wasp (bees are vegetarian). Big bulging eyes and two wings? It’s a fly. Take our quiz and learn how to tell different kinds of bees from one another. Did you know male bumblebees have moustaches and mining bees wear pollen pants?

Person in garden with butterfly on hand

Create a butterfly garden

Does your yard have what butterflies need for all stages of their life cycle throughout the year?

Rufous hummingbird

Feed hummingbirds

Is your yard or garden red enough? Hummingbirds are guided by their eyes! And many red-coloured flowers provide good sources of nectar.

Try perennials like red or purple hollyhock, pink or red coral bells, bee balm, summer phlox or sage. Annuals that attract hummingbirds include begonias, cosmos, geraniums and petunias. Don’t forget shrubs and vines like hibiscus, honeysuckle and flowering currant. These plants prefer full sun exposure with shelter from strong winds.

Didn’t see much action the first season? Enjoy the flowers and wait a year.

A flower bed instead of a lawn.

How to get your yard off grass

Ditch the lawn habit. Join the movement to “rewild” and create more edible landscapes. Make nature your ally. It has delicious consequences!

Bee collecting pollen from a sunflower

Sow sunflowers

Sunflowers’ height makes them beacons for pollinators. They’re also rich sources of nectar and pollen for honeybees, bumblebees and other wild bee species, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Leave the flower in the garden as a natural fall and winter bird feeder — much loved by chickadees.

  • Get kids involved! The seeds are big — easy for tiny hands. Push each seed two centimetres (one inch) into the soil. Space big varieties three to five feet apart.
  • For smaller spaces, plant tiny sunflowers to grow one foot apart (or one plant per three-gallon container). Choose dwarf varieties, like music box (grows a few feet) for raised beds or in large containers, like half-barrels.
Mining bee

Plant bee food

Bees eat two things: nectar (loaded with sugar and a bee’s main source of energy) and pollen (which provides proteins and fats).

Choose a variety of plants that flower at different times so there’s always a snack available. As a rule, native plants attract native bees and exotic plants attract honeybees.

Flowers bred to please the human eye (for things like size and complexity) are sometimes sterile and of little use to pollinators. Native plants or heirloom varieties are best!

Bees have good colour vision. They especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow. Create floral bull’s eyes: Plant flowers of a single species in clumps about four feet in diameter instead of in scatterings so bees are more likely to find them.

Bee species all have different tongue lengths — adaptations to different flowers, so a variety of flower shapes will benefit a diversity of bees.

Plants that attract pollinators

We’ve curated a list of native plants to attract pollinators in Western and Eastern Canada.