How to attract pollinators

Hummingbird in a garden

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: John Duncan via Unsplash)

A manicured lawn is pollinator-unfriendly. But a yard, community garden, patio or window box filled with native plants can be a pollinator paradise!

Creating space to feed and shelter bees, birds and butterflies is simple and fun. And you’ll meet a new group of neighbours — some with wings, some with feathers and some with six (or more) legs!

Tips to attract birds, bees and butterflies

Include a diversity of woody and soft-stemmed native plants

Aim for a succession of blooms so pollen (which provides protein and fats) and nectar (sugar, an energy engine) are available from spring through to fall.

Flowers bred to please humans (for things like size and complexity) are sometimes sterile and of little use to pollinators. Straight (unaltered) native plants or heirloom varieties of non-native plants are best. Pussy willow is an excellent early-blooming plant that grows throughout much of Canada.

Close up photo of brown, autumn leaves on the ground.

Leave natural debris like dead stems and dry leaves

What may seem messy to some people, is habitat for wildlife, especially overwintering insects. Birds also need materials such as dry grass and vine tendrils to build their nests every spring.


Avoid lawn and garden chemicals

Pesticides and fertilizers kill some pollinators and harm others. Pesticides are also linked to autism and Parkinson’s disease. Check out organic gardening resources online and at public libraries.

Appreciate insects. Most provide free services such as pollination, pest control and waste decomposition.

Red rake and pile of leaves

Use a rake instead of a leaf blower

Leaf blowers are typically powered by loud, polluting two-stroke engines. The noise impairs bird communication. Air pollutants harm the respiratory health of all nearby living things.

Even electric leaf blowers cause habitat destruction, including removing natural debris and eroding and drying out soil.

Garden lights in a tree

Reduce nighttime outdoor lighting

Many insects and birds are highly sensitive to artificial light, which can impede their navigation, reproduction and ability to find food.

Enjoy your lights when you’re outdoors, then turn them off to allow insects, birds and more to go about their lives with one less hazard.

Bee polinating pink flowers

Learn bee likes

Bees have good colour vision and especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow. Create floral bull’s eyes — plant a single species in clumps about four feet in diameter instead of in scatterings.

Many bees feed on one or a small number of plants. Include plants with a variety of flower shapes and sizes to attract a greater diversity.

Hummingbird near pink flower

Attract hummingbirds

Hummingbirds eat insects, too, not just nectar.

Plant species with brightly-coloured and/or tubular flowers, such as cardinal flower, blue flag iris, bee balm, bergamot, wild columbine, spotted Joe pye weed and jewelweed, or annuals such as begonia, cosmos, geranium, petunia, zinnia and nasturtium,

Bee collecting pollen from a sunflower

Plant sunflowers

Tall sunflowers are beacons for pollinators. Leave the flower in the garden as a natural fall and winter bird feeder, much loved by chickadees and finches.

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.

Choose dwarf varieties, like music box (grows a few feet) for raised beds or in large containers, like half-barrels.

What’s a native plant?

Native plants evolved over millennia along with other species of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria in the presence of native soil and climatic conditions.

They play an important, foundational role in ecosystems, providing food, shelter and nesting material for insects, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. They’re also tied to Indigenous cultures that use them for food, fibre, medicine and ceremony.

Choose from the huge number and diversity of native plants for their beauty and to support pollinators and other wildlife.

How to source native plants and seeds

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 flying critters apart. Did you know male bumblebees have moustaches and mining bees wear pollen pants?

Learn how to identify bees