Diggin' In: How to create a 'pollinator hotel'

June 23, 2014

Bees do it. Butterflies do it. Moths do it.

In fact, lots of insects do it – pollinate our flowers and edibles.

That is why National Pollinator Week – June 16-23 – is so important. The week spotlights the significant role that pollinators play in our everyday lives, and it encourages home gardeners to establish habitats that benefit pollinators.

"I could not grow flowers without the work of beneficial insects," says Lisa Ziegler who has a two-acre flower farm and online gardening seed and tool shop in Newport News, Va.:

"They are nature’s hardest workers that maintain and balance the environment by keeping the bad bugs in check and pollinating flowers."

Other horticulturists readily agree.

"Seventy-five percent of all flowering plants, including one-third of the foods we eat, require animal pollination," says Helen Hamilton, a retired biology teacher, past president of the John Clayton Chapter Virginia Native Plant Society

"One in every three bites of food we consume comes from the activity of pollinators," adds Darl Fletcher, assistant horticultural curator at the Virginia Living Museum, in Newport News, which has a butterfly garden with 60 species of plants native to Virginia. The museum is also a designated Monarch Waystation where monarch butterflies can get nectar during their fall migration back to Mexico.

"Without pollinators the world – animals and humans — goes hungry."

Insects are among the hardest working members of Mother Nature, toiling largely unnoticed in gardens — pollinating flowers, recycling dead material, eating each other, says Hamilton.

"A healthy garden has clumps and drifts of plants of all sizes and shapes, closely planted; not much habitat is available for pollinators when a few decorative plants are surrounded by yards of mulch," she says.

Pollinators also need homes near flowering plants where they can nest, hibernate and hide from predators, adds Helen. A wildlife habitat can be simply constructed of hollow stems, dead logs with drilled holes, bark, stones, or wooden pallets and perforated brick. These "pollinator hotels" provide safe homes for bees, beetles, wasps, lizards, and many other beneficial animals. Such a structure was recently completed in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in Freedom Park in Williamsburg, Va.

In addition to nectar plants with overlapping bloom times, pollinators appreciate a water source such as a birdbath or shallow dish lined with pebbles, according to Grace Chapman, director of horticulture at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va.

"Bees especially need to collect water to cool their hives," she says.

In Norfolk, Va., Norfolk Botanical Garden’s summer-long exhibit – Mission Monarch: Project Milkweed — focuses on pollinators, including the monarch butterfly which is disappearing in great numbers because of habitat destruction.  

"We are trying to make our visitors aware of the dire plight of the monarch butterfly, and to encourage them to plant Asclepias species (milkweed) in their garden at home," says Les Parks, curator of herbaceous plants at Norfolk Botanical Garden and author of the gardening blog, A Tidewater Gardener. Asclepias and a few very closely related plants are the only food source for monarch caterpillars, and as any kindergartener will tell you, you can’t have butterflies without caterpillars. We will be planting different varieties of Asclepias throughout the entire botanical garden, and especially in our butterfly garden.

 "This year we are also adding a home demonstration garden just outside the entrance to our butterfly house. This new garden will be small enough that most suburban or even urban gardeners can replicate it at home, and it will be full of easy to find plants that attract both adult butterflies, and caterpillars. Visitors to the garden will be able to take home a list of the plants we are growing."



Norfolk Botanical Garden recently installed a garden specifically designed to attract native pollinators — bees, wasps, hummingbirds, flies and other beneficial organisms. The garden is located outside the entrance of the World of Wonders Children’s Garden so children and their parents can learn about the importance of insects.

"We have included a stepping stone path and a vine covered, tunnel-like arbor so that guests can have a close encounter with the plants and all the activity in that garden," says Parks.

Plants in the garden include:

·Blue Fortune giant hyssop (Agastache)

·Wedgewood Blue Summer snapdragon (Angelonia)

·Silky Deep Red tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

·Oscar milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus)

·Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

·Cosmic Yellow cosmos (Cosmos) 

·Purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab)

·Lucky Pot of Gold lantana (Lantana camara)

·Egyptian starflower (Pentas lanceolata)

·Beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens)

·Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)

·Prairie Sun black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

·Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis)

·Homestead Purple verbena (Verbena Canadensis)

"In a very nearby garden is a large grouping of Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), which is one of our favorite plants for attracting native pollinators," says Parks.

"We are also very fond of the mountain mint, Blue Fortune agastache and the Oscar milkweed, which all ‘buzz’ with activity when they are in bloom."



In honor of National Pollinator Week, the Norfolk Botanical Garden recommends these caterpillar host and butterfly nectar plants, annuals and perennials, for home gardens:

·Blue Chip dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleja)

·Kim’s Knee High coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

·Crown of Rays goldenrod (Solidago)

·May Night sage (Salvia)

·Junior Walker catmint (Nepeta)

·Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

·Lucky Yellow lantana (Lantana camara)

·Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

·Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata)

·Homestead purple verbena (Verbena canadensis )

·Zahara Double Fire zinnia (Zinnia marlandica)

·Sparkler White cleome (Cleome)

·Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) \

·Tropical milkweed (Asclepias currasavica)

·Oscar milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus)

·Egyptian starflower (Pentas lanceolata)

·Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)



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