Do Your Plants Need a Little Love? [Infographic]

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and soon, love will be in the air.

No, really.

Pollinators—those Cupids of the plant world—will flutter from plant to plant, distributing pollen among flowers. And ultimately, they’ll help your garden produce tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and so on.

They will, that is, unless you have a shortage of pollinators, as the majority of urban gardeners do today.

For a variety of reasons, pollinator (and particularly honey bee) populations have been shrinking. This is a problem, of course, since they’re so critical to food production.

The good news is you can easily attract bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators to your garden. And in this post, I’m going to show you how. I’ll also share tips for increasing your yields—even without pollinators.

Traits of a pollinator-friendly garden

3 Parts of a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

Pollinators aren’t all that different from you and me. When it comes down to basic survival, they have only a few core needs—food, water and shelter. Provide these, and your garden will act as a pollinator magnet.

Grow Flowers and Flowering Food Crops

When pollinators pollinate, their intention is actually something else entirely. They seek to silence the pangs of hunger.

Honey bees, for example, gorge themselves on flower pollen and nectar the way you or I might devour a bowl of homemade vegetable soup. As they move from one flower to the next, they leave behind some of that pollen.

And hey, presto, plants get pollinated!

So the first step of creating a haven for honey bees and other pollinators is to grow flowering plants. This includes actual flowers, yes. But many pollinator favorites go by other names—fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as:

  • Basil
  • Bee balm
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Dwarf sunflowers
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme

The trick is to let the nontraditional flowers (e.g., basil, dill and thyme) bolt, or flower and go to seed, so that they draw pollinators. As insects enjoy these plants, they’ll also visit your tomatoes, squash, eggplant, green beans, strawberries and any other flowering crops you have nearby.

Tower Tip: Want more recommendations on what to grow? Here are several chef favorites, and these plants are kid-approved. Or if you love salads, give these crops a go.

Provide Access to Fresh, Clean Water

Like most living things, pollinators need water. If they can find it in your garden, they’ve one more compelling reason to stick around.

What should you put the water in? I’d recommend using a small, shallow dish, like a saucer. Just remember to empty and refill the container every day or so. Otherwise you might attract mosquitoes, too.

(And no one wants that.)

Materials needed for a bee house

Build a Bee House

After you provide food and water, pollinators will begin to think they’ve found paradise. If only they could stay forever!

Well, why not?

But they’ll need somewhere to sleep, of course—and a place to raise their little pollinator families. And that’s where the bee house comes in.

Bee houses are easy to make using resources you likely have lying around. If you have kids, building one could be a fun project to complete together.

You need just three things:

  • A container. This could be a tin can, plastic wastebasket, deep picture frame—something with an empty space.
  • Nesting spaces. Any relatively small, hollow object will work. People often use bamboo, cardboard paper towel rolls and sticks. Just squeeze them all into the container you’ve chosen.
  • A raised location. Consider attaching the bee house to a tree trunk, an existing wall or a fence post.

That’s really all there is to it. In a few weeks, pollinators should take up residence in their new home. (As a bonus, your bee house will provide shelter for other good bugs, many of which will help control pests naturally.)

Hand pollination instructions

Hand-pollinating Plants

What if attracting pollinators isn’t enough? Or what if it’s not even an option—like if you’re growing indoors, on the balcony of a high-rise or in a greenhouse? In these cases, you may need to assume the role of the pollinator.

Hand pollination is pretty easy, requiring only that you move a little pollen around (usually with a small paintbrush or similar tool). But you should know there are two types of plants: those with self-fertile flowers and those with separate male and female flowers.

Plants with self-fertile flowers include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, peas and strawberries. For these, you simply swab each flower to ensure pollination.

But squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons and other plants with separate male and female flowers need pollen transferred from the male flower to the female flower.

For more information, read this post on hand-pollination. (There’s a handy video demonstration, too!)

How to Encourage Pollination in Your Garden

So let’s summarize what we’ve learned.

Pollination tips infographic

Over to You

I hope these ideas help you have a hearty harvest from your garden this year.

If you have any questions about pollination or any tips you’d like to share, I’m ready to chat in the comments below!

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