It can be discouraging to even think about helping the environment these days.
After all, most of us can’t buy a forest or a desert and turn it into a preserve. The good news is, you can make a little piece of wilderness anywhere, wherever you live — and yes, make a real difference.
Our little flying friends are everywhere, even in suburbia and along city streets, and more will come if you put out food and shelter for them.
It doesn’t take much work or money to start bringing new species to your yard — or your balcony, if you live in an apartment.
Wherever you live, so long as there is any available light and water, can become a little bit of wilderness that will attract butterflies, moths, bees and other nectar-loving species.
How to Make a Paradise for Pollinators
An ideal pollinator garden will supply food plants for different life stages, safe places for the larvae to pupate, and also moisture in the form of shallow puddles or wet rocks so that adults can drink without drowning. A wide dish filled with damp sand will work, if a water feature isn’t an option. Large bushes and small trees can provide both food and night-time shelter for your insect guests.
If you don’t have room, or only have a concrete patio, miniatures in pots are good too.
Every bit of green helps, more than you can imagine. And if you do have the room, leave some bare dirt in an out-of-the-way area, with no bark mulch or gravel covering, since bumblebees and many other native bee species need it because they live in underground burrows.
Plant a variety of annuals, perennials, or both to provide blossoms for all species throughout the season. Small shrubs or vines on trellises can provide interest and shade as well as habitat, depending on how much room and budget you have. You can even share your organic kitchen garden harvest with the caterpillars, by setting aside some extra food plants like fennel or leafy greens — and, of course, not spraying any of your garden.
Milkweed is the only thing monarch butterflies eat as caterpillars, but there are many regional varieties of milkweed, and some have impressive flowers, which will attract even more types of pollinators. Yarrow and lantana, with their multiple florets and lengthy bloom season, are good nectar sources for all species. Sunflowers supply lots of nectar and pollen, and goldfinches love them too.
There are several ways to embrace nature – no matter the size of your plot
If you only have a shaded area, look for woodland plants that prefer dimmer light — combine bluebells, violets, geraniums and ferns for a charming, unexpected forest nook. Leave some leaves for mulch on the ground under them to encourage beetles, toads, and other vital members of the ecosystem to drop in.
If on the other hand, you live in a hot, dry area, consult your local college’s biology department for planting ideas and native wildflowers to use, or check out conservation sites, which often have regional guides. Many succulents have long flowering displays, and some (like aloes) are very attractive to hummingbirds as well, so you can easily have a water-wise pollinator garden.
As more butterflies, moths, bees, bee-flies, nectar-drinking wasps, and tiny birds discover your oasis, you’ll need to spend more time looking up all the new visitors. Fortunately, there are lots of websites dedicated to helping fans of nature identify these tiny helpful neighbors, along with the many printed guidebooks available at the library and bookstore.
You don’t have to have a “green thumb” or a large yard or lots of money — just a trowel, a few medium-sized pots, and some flats of annuals in a corner will provide a feast for the winged beauties amid all the manicured lawns and concrete — and a feast for your eyes, too.