The Importance of Pollinators

Step outside on a sunny day, and you’ll probably see ants and butterflies. Step outside after a storm, and mosquitoes will attack you. Insects are a part of life—some more annoying than others.

While every insect plays a role in the ecosystem, you could argue that pollinators are the most important, but you’ve probably heard that by now. They’re responsible for the plants we use for food, materials, and enjoyment. If we don’t have pollinators, we don’t have plants!

Whether you have a garden or not, it’s important for humanity that everyone tries to keep pollinators alive and well.

  1. What Are Pollinators?
    1. Types of Pollinators
  2. What Do Pollinators Do?
    1. They Feed Us
    2. They Keep the Environment Clean
    3. They Boost the Economy
  3. How to Keep Pollinators in Your Garden
    1. Grow Native Plants
    2. Grow a Variety of Plants
    3. Don’t Use Pesticides
    4. Provide Pollinator Housing
    5. Provide Water for Your Pollinators
    6. Intercropping
  4. How to Control What Pollinates Your Garden
    1. Plant for Specific Pollinators
    2. Offer Alternatives
    3. Watch Your Garden Daily
  5. Pollinator Conservation
    1. Don’t Kill Pollinators
    2. Learn How to Identify Pollinators
    3. Teach Others
  6. Pollinators and People Need Each Other

What Are Pollinators?

You could say the pollinators are our planet’s most overworked and underpaid critters (aside from humans). They pollinate plants by taking pollen from one flower to another as they eat nectar. Who said no snacking on the job?

Successful pollination produces fruit and seeds for humans and animals to eat. If a plant isn’t successfully pollinated, it won’t set fruit, and there won’t be seeds. The plant will essentially die without an “heir.” If every single plant of a species isn’t pollinated and they all die without fruit and seeds, that plant will become extinct.

Types of Pollinators

There are several categories of pollinators that are necessary for plants’ survival.

  • Bees: Perhaps the most recognizable pollinator, bees feed on flower nectar and pollen. They’re typically regarded as the most important pollinator. Honeybees make honey, carpenter bees live in wood, and mason bees live in the ground. There are many types of bees; some aren’t even yellow and black.
  • Birds: Birds that feed on nectar can pollinate, too! Hummingbirds, honeyeaters, and sunbirds are among many pollinating species. Some of these birds also eat insects, so they’re not considered as helpful as the bees.
  • Butterflies: Butterflies don’t pollinate to the same degree as bees, but they’re still good at their job and are necessary for any garden! Unfortunately, butterflies are prone to endangerment since their caterpillar stage is so destructive to gardens. Many gardeners love to see butterflies but hate to see caterpillars.
  • Mammals: Mammals and other vertebrates aren’t quite as efficient as insects and probably don’t play a huge role in suburban areas or cities. Even so, bats, lizards, mice, and even squirrels are capable of pollinating plants. Bats and other animals that feed on nectar will do so as they move between plants.
  • Other insects: Insects that fly and land on plants are pollinators! Flies—even mosquitoes!—can pollinate, and so can ladybugs, moths, beetles, and wasps.

Some critters have specific diets and play a small role in pollination, but their specialization makes them even more important. If that animal dies, the plants will likely die if nothing else will pollinate them.

What Do Pollinators Do?

Pollinators do much more than pollinate, just as you probably do more than your job title says. Through pollination, life thrives here on planet earth!

They Feed Us

Pollinators are responsible for our food. Hand pollination is an option, but how effective can that be if you can’t spend all day in the garden? When your garden is full of bees and butterflies, the pollination process requires little to no effort from you—all you have to do is keep your plants alive!

They Keep the Environment Clean

When pollinators help plants produce fruit and keep plant species thriving, they contribute to keeping the environment clean. Plant roots prevent erosion and improve soil quality which helps the local ecosystem stay healthy. Plants are known for being able to cleanse the air (according to this NASA study), so keeping them around is crucial.

They Boost the Economy

It may leave a bad taste in your mouth to think of the monetary benefits of nature, but it’s true!

Farmers rely on their crops to make a living. Without pollinators, they wouldn’t be able to live and would have to find another line of work. The agriculture industry plays a significant role in the US economy. Without it, we wouldn’t have grocery stores or restaurants, leaving many people unemployed and many more hungry. If you like to dine out on the weekends or cook meals at home, thank your farmers and pollinators.

Pollinators also boost the local economy. If you like to buy fresh produce at local farmers’ markets, you wouldn’t be able to if your local farmers didn’t have bees and other bugs visiting their crops every day.

How to Keep Pollinators in Your Garden

We talked about what pollinators do and how they affect our lives, so let’s get into how you can keep them in your garden. If you want to grow your own produce or flowers and save seeds for next year, you’ll need some critter allies!

Grow Native Plants

Studies show that pollinators prefer native plants over non-native plants, so if you need help attracting bees and butterflies to your garden, choose native varieties.

Unfortunately, many native plants are often seen as weeds and are removed as soon as they pop up. Their weedy tendencies are only because they thrive in the local climate compared to non-natives. A native, drought-tolerant plant will continue growing and spreading during the driest part of the year, while plants that need moist soil will struggle.

Research which plants are native to your area and learn how to incorporate them into your garden. If you’re concerned about them taking over, consider growing them in flower beds away from your garden or in nearby containers.

Grow a Variety of Plants

You don’t have to stick to just native plants. Grow a variety of native and non-native to make your garden as attractive as possible. Choosing different species of plants will bring in a wider variety of insects. For example, monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed flowers, so you can plant these to increase your chances of seeing them.

Discover what other picky eaters live in your area and grow the plants they like to eat. You can also do this to attract hummingbirds and other pollinating animals that live in your area.

Don’t Use Pesticides

This topic might as well be called “gardening politics” because of how polarizing it can be. Whether you’re comfortable using synthetic chemicals in your garden or not, pesticides harm pollinators. They’re less harmful when they’re dry, and you can time the application so it will be dry by the time the beneficial insects come out. Even so, you risk harming the pollinators that might land on sprayed leaves and flowers.

Pesticides and other synthetic chemicals (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers) make gardening easier, but they aren’t entirely safe for human consumption and can harm wildlife. Organic gardening omits synthetic chemicals and is safer for the environment and the people and animals interacting with your garden.

Provide Pollinator Housing

Critters need a place to live, too. If you want to attract pollinators, why not offer them free real estate?

The simplest form of housing is a garden. Pick a flower bed or corner of your yard to grow flowers intended for caterpillars and other insects to eat. Allow aphids to infiltrate this area to attract ladybugs. Let butterflies lay their eggs there. It will encourage them to stay in your yard but away from your veggies!

You can also provide housing for bees, birds, butterflies, and bats. These are wooden structures you hang or mount near flowers or your garden to attract these pollinators to live. You can buy them online or build them for a fun DIY project.

Provide Water for Your Pollinators

Everything needs water to live, so make water available near your garden or pollinator housing. The easiest way to do this is to fill a shallow tray with rocks and water. The insects can land on the rocks and drink water from the tray. You can also use bird baths to include bigger pollinators, but make sure it’s not too deep or that there are “landing pads” in various places so the small pollinators won’t fall in.

Stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. While they are pollinators, you may not want to create an infestation! Hot summer days should evaporate the water enough to prevent the mosquitoes from laying eggs, but you may need to change the water every day in cooler weather.

Intercropping

Intercropping is when you plant at least two plants close together. You can attract pollinators to your vegetable garden with this method by planting flowers near your produce. Marigolds are a popular choice because they’re known to repel pests, and nasturtium is used as a trap crop to draw aphids away from other plants.

Be sure to learn about companion planting before you use this method, as some plants don’t work well together.

How to Control What Pollinates Your Garden

You can’t really control nature, but you can encourage the pollinators you want and discourage the ones you don’t want.

Every pollinator has its place in nature, but humans are finicky creatures—we know what we like and don’t like! Moths are as important as butterflies, but anyone with mottephobia doesn’t want to see them. Carpenter bees are as important as honeybees, but they can be annoying when they start nesting in your wooden deck.

Here are a few ways you can passively attempt to control what enters your garden without causing any harm.

Plant for Specific Pollinators

Some pollinators have specific diets and won’t eat anything but one plant. If you want those pollinators in your garden, grow their favorite food.

Conversely, you can deter certain pollinators (pests) with specific plants. If you don’t want butterflies laying eggs in a specific part of your garden, try planting aromatic herbs known to keep them away. If you don’t want to repel them completely, grow what attracts them on the other side of your yard.

Offer Alternatives

If you kill every caterpillar, you’ll eventually run out of butterflies. You can learn to coexist with unwanted-but-wanted pollinators by giving them an alternative option.

Tomato hornworms are bad news for gardeners, but they turn into moths that will pollinate your garden. (For some people, that’s probably still bad news!) These hornworms only eat plants in the nightshade family, including eggplants, potatoes, and peppers. Plant flowers in this family as an alternative, or have a designated “hornworm garden” so you can relocate them when you spot them in your garden.

Herbs are an easy way to offer alternatives because they grow quickly and can be grown in containers near your garden. Cabbage loopers, aphids, leafminers, and many other pests love parsley. Grow parsley near your garden, and you might encourage them to leave your garden alone. Or, you can evict and relocate them yourself.

Watch Your Garden Daily

You can’t attempt to control what happens in your garden if you aren’t aware of what’s happening. Check your garden in the morning, afternoon, and evening to look for pollinators and pests. Take notes of what insects you see and when you see them so you can remember next year and plan ahead.

You should also monitor your pollinator habitats if you have any. Take note of what butterflies are stopping in your butterfly garden or if the pollinators are using the water dishes you set out for them. Are the pollinator gardens so far away from your vegetable garden that the pollinators don’t venture out to them?

Be an active part of your garden and learn about the life living in it. Even if you don’t want to try to control it, knowing what is and isn’t working in your garden will help make next year’s decisions easier.

Pollinator Conservation

Not every pollinator needs to be saved, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to help out their population. Pollinators are necessary, whether you grow a garden or not. You’re just one person, but you can help the pollinators by making an effort to keep them alive and teaching others their importance.

Don’t Kill Pollinators

This one is obvious, but some of your decisions may negatively affect pollinators without you realizing it. Spraying harmful chemicals or removing every caterpillar you see can take its toll on pollinator populations. Consider moving them somewhere else or choosing a “sacrificial plant” to move pests to in your garden.

The simplest way to help out pollinators is to plant flowers! Poke a few seeds in the ground here and there or fill up a flower bed. Every flower counts and will provide pollinators with food and shelter.

Learn How to Identify Pollinators

Nature is full of friends and foes, so it’s important to know which ones you’re dealing with. You wouldn’t want to mistake a yellow jacket for a bee!

Spend time in your garden to see what kind of insects come to your garden. Learn how to identify them and decide if you want to encourage or discourage them. Plant more of what they like and provide water if you want them.

Caterpillars are destructive but turn into beautiful butterflies or moths when they grow up. Learn about what kind of caterpillars you have in your garden, and look up how common they are in your area. You might discover a not-so-common species that you can carefully watch and protect as they mature.

Teach Others

Many people are unaware of how important pollinators are or how many endangered species there are. The best way to spread the word is to teach your friends! Find graceful ways to express your concern about pollinator populations, pesticides, and habitat loss. Encourage your friends to grow flowers on their lawns and balconies.

Pollinators and People Need Each Other

Humans need pollinators to survive, and pollinators need humans to help them survive. Plant some flowers, build pollinator habitats, and allow the pollinators to thrive in your garden. Nature will thank your compassion with fruit, veggies, and flowers!


Kaleigh Brillon is a freelance writer specializing in web copy about gardening. If you need blog posts, product descriptions, newsletters, or anything else that can be written, Kaleigh can help you! View her Services page to learn more.

How to Be an Effective Lazy Gardener

Gardening can be tough work. Pulling weeds when the mid-summer temperatures are skyrocketing is just too much. Keeping track of when and what to plant and prune, making sure everything is all watered…it’s a lot!

Your garden might look messy and overgrown when things get out of hand. You might feel like a lazy gardener, especially when everyone on social media has aesthetically pleasing gardens.

Don’t sweat it if you’re not cut out for the “management position” of gardening. Here are some tips on being an effective “lazy gardener” to make the most out of the little work you put in!

  1. What is Considered “Lazy” Gardening?
  2. Accept Your Accidents
  3. Making the Most of Overgrowth
  4. Grow More with Less Water
    1. Teach Your Plants to Drink Less
    2. Use Mulch
    3. Olla Irrigation
  5. Containers Are Your Friends
  6. Enjoy the Way You Grow

What is Considered “Lazy” Gardening?

Lazy and productive are subjective terms, meaning that what one person might deem lazy may be another person’s definition of a productive afternoon.

Lazy doesn’t mean careless.

A “lazy” gardener might not be bothered to set up a drip irrigation system, so they water their plants by laying the hose on the ground and moving it around every five minutes. The plants are still being watered, aren’t they?

A “lazy” gardener might throw dead plants behind the shed instead of preparing them for the compost bin or taking them out to the dumpster. That’s no big deal—it will decompose into compost someday!

Gardening can be more labor-intensive than you bargained for. You might not have the time or the energy to break a sweat each day. Gardening should be an enjoyable experience you’re excited to take part in. You have every right to cut corners if something is killing your vibe.

Accept Your Accidents

You’ll need to learn to go with the flow to be an effective lazy gardener. If your zucchini and squash cross-pollinated, your tomatoes quickly grew out of control, and you don’t know what that plant is that popped up, just wait and see what happens.

Mistakes are inevitable in any garden, but a lazy gardener isn’t bothered by them—they see them as a fun surprise. Maybe that hybrid zuke will taste great!

Some mistakes are more detrimental than others and will require some less-than-lazy effort. If you overwater your plants, allowing them to dry out for a few days may not be enough; you may have to replant them in drier soil. On the other hand, there’s a point of no return if your plants get too dry.

Accepting your accidents isn’t letting your garden die out mid-season. It’s learning to go with the flow and not let a few mistakes ruin your gardening experience.

Making the Most of Overgrowth

Oops! Your tomato plant now looks like a tree, and your cucumbers are climbing over everything.

Some gardeners work extra hard to prevent this from happening, while others do what they can to correct the mistakes after they happen. Lazy gardeners may look for a way to make the most of the situation.

Pruning indeterminate tomatoes is necessary to prevent disease and improve fruit production, so it’s not great if your plan gets out of control. However, you may end up with a few more tomatoes if the plant grows like crazy, although the size and quality may suffer. Maybe you’d rather have several smaller tomatoes, anyway.

If your vining plants are climbing up other plants, you risk suffocating the now-supportive plants. If you don’t mind losing those, let the vines do what they do best and leave them alone. Or, you can cut the vines that climbed your other plants rather than trying to remove and redirect them.

A viable option for any overgrowth is to let it keep growing, but consider what you’ll lose if you do that. Who knows, an entire strawberry patch might be what your garden was missing!

Grow More with Less Water

Lazy gardeners run the risk of underwatering their plants. Watering can be time-consuming and gets old quickly unless you have drip irrigation. Fortunately, you can turn your weaknesses into strengths with a little extra (or, in some cases, less) effort in the beginning.

Teach Your Plants to Drink Less

Yes, this is a thing! Plants can adapt to less water, but you have to train them that way from the beginning. The trick is to water deeply. If the top few inches of the soil dried out and now the bottom four inches are wet, the thirsty plants will grow deeper roots in search of water.

It takes some time to develop deep roots, so you need to stay on top of watering for seedlings since they have shallow roots. Water deeply and reduce the frequency as they grow. Eventually, you’ll have drought-tolerant plants that can skip a few days of watering!

Side note: Not every plant can adapt to this lifestyle, as some plants just aren’t designed to be drought tolerant. This method will require experimentation to figure out what works in your climate.

Use Mulch

Mulch is a miracle worker. Use up to two inches of mulch around your plants to keep the soil cool and prevent evaporation. This will make the water available for your plants when needed. When you combine this method with teaching your plants to drink less, you’ve got easy days ahead of you!

Olla Irrigation

Watering with ollas is an old practice that’s making a comeback. An olla is a clay pot buried in the ground to water plants. Fill the olla with water, cover it, and your garden will water itself. Water will seep out of the olla, and the roots will grow toward and around it to get water.

You can use terracotta pots or purchase ollas. As long as it’s uncoated and unpainted terracotta, you’ll be able to use them in your garden.

They aren’t a perfect watering system since the terracotta pores can clog, shallow roots won’t be able to reach them, and you have to refill them, but they can certainly help you out if your mature plants are becoming annoying to water.

Containers Are Your Friends

If you hate weeding, bending over, and untangling unruly plants, grow in containers!

You can put them on tables for easy access or move them around as needed. You won’t have to weed as often, and if your plants aren’t receiving proper sunlight, you can easily adjust them as necessary.

You might see moving containers around as too much work, but once you find the right spot, you won’t have to move them around as often. You also won’t have to dig as much, either.

Enjoy the Way You Grow

“Lazy gardening” isn’t lazy at all—it’s simply removing the steps that make gardening unenjoyable.

Don’t worry if your garden looks a little messy or if you’re cutting corners. There aren’t any set-in-stone rules you have to follow, so do what works for you!


Kaleigh Brillon is a freelance writer specializing in web copy about gardening. If you need blog posts, product descriptions, newsletters, or anything else that can be written, Kaleigh can help you! View her Services page to learn more.

How to Start Gardening

Growing plants has been practiced for centuries, but backyard gardening has seen a resurgence in recent years. Whether it’s due to rising food costs or the spare time everyone had in 2020, it seems like more people are getting their hands dirty in the soil these days.

Have you caught the gardening bug but don’t know where to start? Gardening can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be! You can start growing something if you have sunlight, a seed, soil, and water.

Let’s look at everything you need to grow your own food and flowers.

  1. Establish Your Virtues
    1. Patience
    2. Determination
    3. Spontaneity
    4. Environmentalism
  2. Make a Plan
    1. Why?
    2. When?
    3. Where?
    4. How?
    5. What?
  3. Gather Your Tools
  4. Acquire Your Plants
  5. Prepare Your Plot
  6. Start Planting

Establish Your Virtues

This may sound silly, but many first-time gardeners are unaware of what it takes mentally to grow plants. You won’t be as prone to discouragement if you know what you need ahead of time!

Patience

Very few crops are ready to harvest in 30 days. If you want pumpkins for Halloween, you need to plant them in early spring.

Gardening is a waiting game.

Plants may grow rapidly one year and slowly the next, so prepare yourself to watch your garden grow.

Determination

Every gardener has an archnemesis. (Ask one, and you’ll see!) Some people can’t perfect tomatoes. Others can’t grow roses no matter what they do.

Be prepared to never give up; don’t let your failing garden get the best of you. Learn from your mistakes, write down what does and doesn’t work, and try to make it happen next year.

Spontaneity

Nature has a mind of its own. Basil may run rampant, potatoes may never show up, and rain may make itself scarce. You must learn to roll with the punches and grow with your garden. Make a plan, but also plan to go off course if your plants send you in another direction.

Environmentalism

Not every gardener has an eco-conscious state of mind, and that’s okay.

Before you begin gardening, figure out what’s important to you. Are you planting to help the pollinators? Are you okay with using synthetic chemicals, or do you want to garden organically? Decide how you want to raise your garden to make decision-making easier down the road.

Make a Plan

Although your plants may never follow the schedule you set up for yourself, making a thorough plan will prevent you from getting overwhelmed and will help you get your plants into the ground at the right time.

Why?

Why do you want to garden?

The answer will help you determine how much time, space, and effort you’ll need to grow everything you want.

If you want to grow plants to have a good time, you only need to be as methodical as necessary, and you can pick and choose the plants as you see fit.

However, if you want to grow a garden to provide food security for your family, this will require more money, space, and careful planning to make sure your family will have enough to eat. Plus, you’ll need to grow staples like potatoes and beans, which may limit your choice of variety.

When?

Gardening is all about timing! Seeds need specific temperatures to germinate, and many plants will die on the first frost. Use a frost date calculator to get an estimation of how long your growing season is so you can plan when to plant seeds, transplant seedlings, or direct sow seeds.

Where?

Plants will need sunlight. A plant that loves as much direct sunlight as possible may die in full shade, so you need to watch your yard or balcony to determine how much shade or sun your space receives. Take notes, take pictures, and draw diagrams to plan where to plant things.

It’s easier to plan ahead than it is to correct mistakes later in the season. If you’re not a planner, at least take the time to figure out sunlight exposure.

How?

This is a big question with several answers.

Are you going to plant in the ground, in raised beds and containers, or opt for hydroponics? Are you going to have a greenhouse?

How are you going to budget for a garden? Are you going to buy everything brand new, or look for used or recycled containers and tools?

How easily can you acquire tools and seeds?

If you’re on a tight budget or overwhelmed by this barrage of questions, start small. Start with one flower bed or one mini greenhouse. Don’t try to do it all in your first year. Let your first year be an experiment to see how much things really cost and how often you have to buy supplies.

What?

This is the fun part! What are you going to grow?

Do you want a garden full of rare plants? Do you only want heirlooms? Do you want to grow the ingredients you need for your favorite dish? Maybe you want whatever’s struggling on the discount rack in the garden center.

The possibilities are endless. Having a well-thought-out plan will prevent you from buying every seed packet you see. Remember, you only have so much space!

Gather Your Tools

Now that you’ve got a plan, it’s time to get ready to put it into action. Grab your keys! We’re headed to the garden center.

  • Water: How will you get water to your garden? Decide what’s best for you: a watering can, drip irrigation, a rain barrel, or keep it simple with a watering hose with a sprayer attachment.
  • Soil and amendments: Consider buying a test to determine your soil’s pH level before adding amendments to your soil. You may have to buy soil if you’re filling raised beds or containers. If you’re growing in the ground, you’ll likely need compost and fertilizer to give your new garden a healthy start.
  • Tools: At the bare minimum, you’ll need a trowel, a shovel, and a sturdy pair of shears. A hoe, rake, shovel, and gardening gloves will certainly make life easier! You won’t need as many items if you stick to container gardening. Start with the bare minimum and make a second trip to the store later when you discover something else you need.
  • Supports: You’ll need stakes for tall bushy plants like peppers, trellises for vining plants like cucumbers, and tomato cages. You can DIY your support systems to make simplistic or fancy supports, or you can buy whatever is available in the store. As your garden grows, you’ll quickly learn what does and doesn’t work for certain plants.
  • Pest control: If you established your “gardening virtues,” you’ll know just what kind of pest control to buy. Synthetic chemicals work like a charm and will kill almost instantly, but they have their downsides: they’re not safe for beneficial insects, and they can harm people, pets, and the environment, too. There are organic options available that are much safer if you want to avoid harming anything.

Acquire Your Plants

The most cost-effective way to start gardening is to buy seed packets, but you can start with transplants if seed starting seems daunting.

For budget-friendly options, see if your local library has a seed library for free seeds. Talk to gardening friends or neighbors to see if they have any seeds to spare. If you’re looking for cheap packs online, be wary of seedy sellers. Many online stores don’t vet their third-party sellers, so you could potentially buy fake seeds for plants that don’t even exist. (Tip: blue strawberries aren’t real yet.)

Seed packets aren’t always the cheapest option, though. Rare seeds are expensive, and you won’t get as many in one pack. For your first year of gardening, it’s best to stick to common plants so you can get high-quality seeds from trusted sellers for a reasonable price.

Prepare Your Plot

Plan—check!

Tools—check!

Seeds—check!

Now it’s time to assemble your garden. Till the ground, build and fill raised beds, assemble greenhouses, and amend the soil. Do this in early spring if you’re aiming for a summer garden.

Water the soil thoroughly and make sure the area drains well to prevent plants from waterlogging. The water may cause the soil to settle, so you may need to add more and water it again. You don’t want the soil to be too loose or compact, so don’t overwork it.

Start Planting

Once you have everything you need and your garden space is assembled, it’s time to start planting!

Gardening will require weekly effort. You may have to go out daily, or you may have slow weeks that don’t require much work. Treat gardening like an adventure—you never know what a day will bring!

For many backyard gardeners, the growing season begins in the spring and ends in the fall. Once you’re comfortable gardening and feel like you can handle cool season challenges, you can keep growing all year long.

Grow with your garden, and don’t be afraid to try new things.


Kaleigh Brillon is a freelance writer specializing in web copy about gardening. If you need blog posts, product descriptions, newsletters, or anything else that can be written, Kaleigh can help you! View her Services page to learn more.