Step 1: Provide Food for Pollinators
Nectar and Pollen Sources
Native plants are the heart of a pollinator friendly garden. Research shows that native plants are 4 times more attractive to pollinators than non-natives. Planting natives in your yard will supply pollinators with the nutrition they need to thrive. Natives are also well adapted to survive in a particular geographic area according to the climate, soils, rainfall and availability of pollinators and seed dispersers. Because they are indigenous to a specific region, native plants usually require little maintenance and are welcomed by wildlife, serving an important role in the local ecosystem.
Here are some suggestions for optimizing your pollinator plantings:
- Provide pollen and nectar sources from early spring to late fall by incorporating a variety of plants with different flower shapes and sizes and overlapping bloom times.
- Choose a variety of colors to attract a diversity of pollinators. Keep in mind that some dull or non-showy flowers have UV markers or other characters that aren’t visible to the human eye.
- Plant in groups to make the flowers easily visible to pollinators.
- Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with “double” flowers. Plant breeders may have sacrificed the pollen and nectar to gain a showier bloom.
Where can you buy pollinator-friendly native plants?
Check out Where to Buy Native Plants from the Wild Seed Project and their blog post on Navigating the nurseries: How to find native plants. Also, check out this Plant Source List from the Maine Yardscaping Program.
Where can you find resources for selecting pollinator plants?
The resources below will help you select pollinator plants for your property or garden, even experienced gardeners will find some “new” plants to attract pollinators in these resources.
- Pollinator Plants for the Northeast Region, Xerces Society
- Gardening to Conserve Maine’s Native Landscape: Plants to Use and Plants to Avoid, Bulletin #2500
- Understanding Native Bees, the Great Pollinators: Enhancing Their Habitat in Maine, Bulletin #7153
- Plants for Pollinator Gardens, GardenPro Answer Book
- Native Plant Finder, Maine Audubon
- “Bringing Nature Home” in Maine, Maine Audubon
- Native Pollinator Plants by Season of Bloom, Wild Seed Project (PDF)
- The Beauty and Pollinator Benefits of Asters and Goldenrods, Wild Seed Project
- Native Plant Trust Plant Finder (formerly the New England Wildflower Society)
- Plant Native, Organization Website
- Ecoregional Guides to Pollinators, Planting guides from the Pollinator Partnership
Larval Host Plants for Butterflies and Moths
Without host plants for butterfly and moth larvae (caterpillars) there will be no butterflies or moths! So don’t forget to provide this vital food source. Many butterfly and moth larvae can only feed on one or two specific host plants, particularly native trees, shrubs and perennials that are vital to their survival. Here are some examples:
- Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed
- Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars feed mainly on spicebush and sassafras
These are examples of host plant specialists. Many species can be hosted by a number of different plant genera, and you can choose plants that will host many different species of caterpillars by using the resources listed below.
Caterpillars will eat the leaves of their host plants, so don’t panic when you see some holes. It just means the plants are doing their job. Plus, the vast majority of birds that nest in Maine depend on finding caterpillars to feed their nestlings, which can’t digest seeds until well after they fledge. So, your pollinator garden should also help feed baby birds.
To learn more, and for a list of larval host plants, check out these publications:
- Landscaping for Butterflies in Maine, Bulletin #7151
- Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Moths, National Wildlife Federation
- Garden Plant Finder, Native Plant Trust
In order to certify, the following is required of your garden:
- At least three different types of nectar and pollen food source plants for each season*
- At least four different types of caterpillar host plants (H)
- Minimum of nine different types of plants native to the Northeast region
* While many non-native plants can play a significant role in supporting pollinators, this certification program is based on native plants because of the close association between pollinators and native plants. For the purpose of this program, we define the native region to encompass southern Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the New England states, and eastern New York. The application includes lists of pollinator-friendly native plants for each season with an (H) noted beside those that are also caterpillar host plants.