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Never too late to give pollinators a hand

In this edition Urban Cowboy, Owen Roberts talks to an expert about why now’s a good time to start a pollinator garden
Bees at work in a pollinator garden (photo courtesy of Nigel Raine)
Bees at work in a pollinator garden. Photo courtesy of Nigel Raine

It’s said the best time to plant a tree is yesterday – the point being, the sooner the better.

The same goes for pollinator gardens. It’s best to get a jump on them early to plan for the seasons, but it’s never too late to get going. In fact, with summer now upon us, there’s every reason to still consider setting up a pollinator garden.

For one, pollinators keep on pollinating. They need diverse nectar and pollen sources for food, and places to nest. You can help.

And if you’re a gardener, this is a wonderful time to be outdoors – not to mention the deals you might get at nurseries now.

University of Guelph Prof. Nigel Raine, who holds the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, says pollinator gardens require as much thought as a flower garden or vegetable garden.

“When planning a pollinator-friendly garden, consider the full range of pollinators, what they need in terms of nesting sites – including host plants for some species, like the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies – and the amount and diversity of flowers,” he says.

“There is a great turnover of pollinator species in your garden over the course of the season, meaning gardeners need to plan for flowers from early spring through to late fall. In addition to looking stunning, your Ontario pollinator garden could help to support populations up to half of the 855 bee species found in Canada, many beautiful butterflies, helpful hoverflies, other flies, wasps, beetles and ruby throated hummingbirds.”

Raine says that while native plants are often the best choices for gardens, some ornamentals are also great choice. These include asters, bachelor’s button, creeping thyme, hyssop, lamb’s ear, lavender, Nepeta, penstemons, Salvia, speedwells and sunflowers.

Flowering trees can be a great choice too, to provide more flowers for pollinators, including the eastern red bud and many early flowering fruit trees (such as apple and pears).

“The magnificent red bud in our own garden was alive with busy bumblebee queens, carpenter bees, and many other species of solitary bee this spring,” says Raine.

Gardens attractive to wild pollinators will also likely attract managed honeybees as well, he says.

Seeds are available for what’s called a Buzzing Garden through the program Bees Matter. Over the past three years, Bees Matter has provided free Buzzing Gardens seed packets for over 185,000 gardens across Canada.

Every Buzzing Gardens seed kit contains seeds from five varieties of flowering plants, selected because they are attractive and nutritious to honey bees, and can be grown in gardens all over the country.

The seeds can cover a five square foot garden. The species included are Lance-leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), Golden Tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria) and Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale).

Bees Matter says pollinators, including managed honey bees, play a vital role in agricultural success in Canada – they are responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat. Today there are over 10,000 beekeepers in Canada keeping more than 780,000 hives, it says, quoting Statistics Canada data.

Like all pollinators, honey bees need access to nutritious nectar and pollen, and some sources of that food are blooming flowers and crops.

You can get details on a free packet here.

More help planning your pollinator garden can be found on the City of Guelph’s website, including a list of suitable plants, here. Some samples of planting plans can be found here.