Build a Pollinator Garden

Most flowering plants depend on pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. These hard workers help spread pollen grains, making a garden healthier, more productive and more beautiful. In Alaska, our pollinators include at least 95 bee species and 75 butterfly species, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Some common Alaska plants that require insect pollinators, such as bees, include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and more. Whether you have a few feet on your balcony, a small backyard or several acres, you can create a place that attracts these pollinators and helps them flourish.
Here are some tips for building your own pollinator playground.

Create a prime pollinating location. While flowering plants can grow in both shady and sunny locations, consider your audience. Butterflies and other pollinators like to bask in the sun and some of their favorite flowers grow best in full or partial sun with some protection from the wind.

Keep them hydrated. Like any animals, bees and other pollinators get thirsty, but it’s hard for them to find a place shallow enough to drink without drowning. Get a smaller planter or tub, put some small stones or marbles in, and fill it enough that they can land and drink from.

Butterflies are drawn to yellow, orange, pink and blue flowers with sweet scents. They need to land before feeding so prefer flat-topped clusters or platform-shaped flowers. Butterfly-preferred plants include cosmos, calendula, yarrow and daisies.

To attract hummingbirds, provide tubular flowers with lots of nectar in red, orange, purple and fuchsia colors. Consider planting nasturtiums, fireweed, fucahsia, honeysuckle, bee balm and sage.

Bees love yellow, blue and purple flowers. (Bees cannot see red, but are attracted to some flowers that reflect ultraviolet light.) For color-pleasing, bee-attracting plants, consider bluebells, forget-me-nots, foxglove, poppy, columbine, raspberry, blueberry, iris and delphinium. Small bees have short tongues and prefer packed clusters of tiny flowers such as daisies and mint.

Moths, another pollinator in Alaska, prefer pale or white flowers that have a strong, sweet smell but also are attracted to columbine and honeysuckle. Many fly species are also important pollinators and prefer green, white and cream colors. They have short tongues so require simple flowers.

Avoid using pesticides & herbicides. Some pesticide residues can continue to kill pollinators for several days after the pesticide is applied. Pesticides can also kill natural predators, leading to increased pest problems. Herbicides can destroy key native plants that are important for pollinators' food mix.

Go natural. Consider non-chemical techniques when managing pests in the garden. Try removing individual pests with gloved hands or by spraying with a garden hose. Encourage native predators with a diverse garden habitat. Try using homemade remedies such as garlic spray, or organic pesticides derived from plants or microbes.