How To Create a Pollinator Sanctuary In Your Garden

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Make your garden "all the buzz" by supporting pollinators.

As we move into 2024, we continue to look for ways to support and advance pollinator health, and we’re starting in the garden! According to The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State University, over 80% of all plants use pollinators like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, flies, and small mammals to reproduce. At the same time, 3/4 of the world’s major food crops benefit from pollinators. 

These crucial creatures facilitate life as we know it, and it’s important to protect them! While gardening, you can be purposeful with your plant choices, like dynamic flowering ground covers, statement shrubs, and vibrant perennials that nurture and protect pollinators. These plants can add a significant pop of color and contrast to the landscape while creating a sanctuary for pollinators and other native wildlife, especially in the early spring when food and resources are limited. 

Learn how to create a sanctuary in your garden for bees, butterflies, and more.

Hummingbird feeding on nectar from a purple Rose of Sharon plant

How To Design a Pollinator Garden

Step #1: Assess Your Current Site

Assessing the site is one of the most crucial steps to starting your pollinator garden. This could encompass your entire yard to create a no-mow lawn filled with flowering ground covers, or a garden bed filled with colorful perennials and shrubs. A good rule of thumb to follow is to not “fight the site,” meaning you should choose plants that prefer the sunlight, water, and soil conditions of your current site. Choosing beautiful plants that don’t grow well in your site conditions can be tempting, but choosing the right plants will save time, resources, and your sanity in the long run. 

Not sure where to start? Take note of your growing zone, hours of direct sunlight, and whether your soil stays wet or drains quickly. This knowledge allows you to filter through our product selection to find plants that match your conditions. Choosing from your area’s native plants is a great way to plant in line with the garden site, as these plants have evolved for thousands of years to grow well and provide benefits to your area.

Step #2: Research Pollinator Plants

It is time for the most colorful step of planning your pollinator garden: researching pollinator plants for your area. Are you looking to attract butterflies with large flowering shrubs, create a hummingbird sanctuary outside your window, or attract honeybees with vibrant nectar-filled perennials? Or are you just laying out the welcome mat for all pollinators? It’s up to you!

Considering your site conditions, research plants with vibrant colors abundant in nectar. Choose brighter colors like pink, purple, yellow, blue, and orange if possible. Bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators have incredible vision and can easily perceive flowers in this color range, thus attracting them like a magnet. Also, consider a variety of early-blooming and late-blooming plants; this allows you to stretch the pollinator appeal of your garden from early spring through fall. 

Some of our most-loved pollinator plants:

Step #3: Design Your Garden

Planning is the key to success in the garden, so grab a sketch pad, and let’s get started! Now that you’ve assessed your site and chosen your plants, now is the time to do a little planning before purchasing. All you’ll need for this step is a pencil and a piece of paper to draw the proposed garden site as well as the plants that will be added. You can even take it a step further and include newly added non-plant items to your pollinator sanctuary in your sketch, like bird baths, feeders, rocks, and more. 

If you’re not an experienced garden sketch artist, there’s no need to worry; simply start by following these simple rules to complete your sketch. We learned these tips and tricks from Paper Garden Workshop.

  • Roughly sketch your landscape. Use a ruler or even another notebook to make sketching lines on structures easier. This isn’t an art project; you can be rough and rugged with this!
  • Add your plants to your landscape by drawing circles to represent the plant. You can draw these to scale, with plants mounded together and their circles overlapping. It’s also helpful to create texture or heavier lines outside of different groups of plants to ensure they are differentiated in your sketch.
  • Draw a “+” for plants you are adding to your landscape. Place a “.” on plants or existing structures in your landscape.
  • Finally, label the plant names on your sketch. Then you’re done! See below for an example of a sketch we drew for a pollinator garden in the front yard of a Michigan home.
Garden sketch with perennials.
Pictured in garden design above: Red creeping thyme, catmint, black-eyed Susan, spirea, and false indigo.

What Else Can I Do To Help Pollinators & Native Wildlife?

Celebrate "No Mow May"

One of the best things we can collectively do to help our pollinators is to celebrate “No Mow May!” It’s simple: keep that mower away for the entire month of May, allowing it to grow out and leaving small creatures to enjoy an early season feast before the warmer months set in. Generally, a low-mow spring is ideal to keep flowering lawns available for bees, butterflies, and hoverflies all season long. Aside from helping the pollinators, taking some time off of mowing sounds nice, don’t you think?

Create a No-Mow Lawn

If you want to totally eliminate mowing, consider creating a now-mow lawn for pollinators. No-mow lawns are low-maintenance lawn alternatives to traditional turf grasses that can fill space in the landscape and reduce time spent mowing. Our favorites are red creeping thyme, blue star creeper, and bugleweed because they grow and spread rapidly. There are a plethora of options to match your unique garden design.

Along with creating a beautiful sanctuary for pollinators and saving precious time, no-mow lawns can even effectively prevent soil erosion and dissipate heat!

Reduce Pesticide Use

About 1 billion pounds of conventional pesticides are used each year in the United States to control weeds, insects, and other pests. While pesticides may eliminate pesky or unsightly insects, they also can run off into the water supply by contaminating the water shelf or potentially destroying the plants flowering ability for pollinators to enjoy. Instead, ensure you are planting the right plant for the right site or choosing disease-resistant cultivars, significantly reducing the risk of developing disease or pests. If pests begin to infest your plants, use mechanical control methods like hand-trimming infested areas or picking off and disposing of pests.

Delay Your Cleanup

Along with practicing “No Mow May,” delaying your spring cleanup is essential. While it may be tempting to remove old twigs, leaves, and branches when temperatures begin to rise, these are actually where many pollinators hibernate during the winter months. Cleaning this debris too early risks destroying the pollinators and/or disturbing their homes before there are abundant food resources. Instead, wait to remove plant litter from your garden until daily temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees. 

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Written by: Lindsey Griffith, click here to read bio.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Let us know! We have an experienced, knowledgeable staff ready to make sure your garden turns out perfect. Or check out our other blogs, here.