In these difficult times, it is more important than ever to live in as environmentally friendly and sustainable a way as possible. Gardening organically is one great way to better our way of life. As keen gardeners will already know, however, we gardeners are not the only ones who work in our gardens. A range of wildlife gives us a helping hand. We should all do what we can to entice pollinators and other beneficial wildlife to our gardens.
While more of us are spending more time at home, this is a wonderful time to increase our gardening efforts and grow as much of our own food as we can. One thing we can do right now is sow seeds and plant to entice pollinators. (And look to the future to think about how we can attract more of them later in the year, and in future years.)
It is important to choose as wide a range of plants as possible so that pollinators will have a food source throughout the year. Plants which entice pollinators in early spring are particularly important, since they will draw in bees and other beneficial insects to pollinate fruit trees when they are in bloom.
Why Is it Particularly Important to Entice Pollinators and Feed Them in Early Spring?
Before we take a look at creating a pollinator-friendly garden, let’s take a look at why it is particularly important to make sure that there are pollinator-friendly plants in bloom in early spring.
First of all, helping pollinators is obviously one way that those with organic gardens can increase their yields. Having plenty of pollinators around helps to ensure good fruit set on wildlife pollinated plants. Many of the plants we grow for food are pollinated by insects and other wildlife. So making sure they are already present in our gardens in early spring means that they will already be around to do their job when it comes to our edible crops.
But it is also important to remember that helping pollinators can also have broader benefits. It can not only help us, individually, as gardeners. Helping pollinators can also help humanity more broadly, and our planet’s ecology as a whole.
Many pollinators are facing mass extinction. Numbers of bees and other key pollinators have fallen dramatically in recent years. If we do not do what we can to save them, we risk undermining all food production on this planet, and may face massive ecosystem collapse. As organic gardeners, we can play our role in safeguarding species diversity. We can help keep pollinator numbers up, and safeguard our food growing future – not just for ourselves, but for wider society.
Creating a Pollinator-Friendly Garden
There are a number of simple steps to take to help protect bees where you live. These include:
Grow organically. Avoid the use of any harmful chemicals.
Make sure your garden is in bloom all year round so there is nectar for bees through every season. (It is especially important to plant for blooms very early in the year, when nectar can be in short supply.)
Create a wildlife pond or other water source with shallow water over pebbles so bees can drink safely.
Build a ‘bee hotel’ for solitary bees.
Leave lawn areas un-mowed to give ground-dwelling bees a chance.
But perhaps the most important thing is to plant a diverse range of flowering plants and trees (including plenty of native species). Sourcing seeds and plants may be somewhat more challenging right now. But it is still possible to order some for delivery. Local aid groups may also be able to help with safely collecting these from gardeners in your area and getting you what you need.
But which plants should we choose to entice pollinators in early spring? Here are just some of the plants you could consider for your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden:
Spring Ephemerals – Bulbs
Planning ahead, if you do not already have spring bulbs in your garden, you should definitely consider getting some in the ground next autumn to flower next spring. Daffodils and other spring bulbs that are in flower in many gardens right now serve an important ecological function. These spring ephemerals can be a great choice for many settings.
These spring flowering bulbs are in bloom at a time of the year when there are few flowers in bloom. They not only attract in those pollinators. They also help to catch and store water and nutrients during their brief time in bloom, preventing these from being depleted from the soil. If you have fruit trees, planting daffodils or other spring bulbs around them in a ring can bring a range of benefits. These are a great addition to fruit tree guilds.
Bulbs to attract pollinators in early spring include:
Wildflower Seed Mixes
One option that does not involve waiting until autumn for planting is to sow seeds. Of course, you should be sowing a wide range of seeds right now for edible crops. But while you should spend plenty of time on edible plants, you should also think about providing food for pollinators. You yield of edible crops will be higher if you have plenty of wildlife around to help with pollination.
Sowing wildflower seed mixes appropriate to your area is a great thing to do. Perhaps you could consider sowing such a mix around the doorways or down the sides of your polytunnel, to keep pollinators happy, and in the vicinity of your edible crops inside.
Be sure to choose a bee seed or wildflower seed mix which contains a good variety of flowering plants native to your area. Choose one which works well in your particular micro-climate and soil type.
Spring Bedding Plants To Entice Pollinators
If your garden is devoid of blooms right now, you could also consider choosing plants rather than seeds. While it is generally better (and cheaper) to sow from seed, you could give your garden a quick boost by choosing and planting some suitable bedding plants (which you may be able to find/order online).
Some examples are:
But those are just a few of the choices that you could consider.
Spring Flowering Shrubs To Entice Pollinators
There are also a range of shrubs that you could consider planting to entice pollinators in early spring. Some excellent options to consider include:
Hellebore (Lenten Rose)
Again, there are plenty of other plants to consider. And remember, now could also be a good time to source other flowering shrubs that will provide food sources for pollinators later in the year.
Of course, you should plant and sow other flowering plants to bring pollinators in to help fruit trees set fruit. But the fruit trees themselves will also help draw in pollinators when in bloom. Five fruit trees will provide as much nectar as a whole acre of meadow. So this is yet another reason to plant trees in your garden.
Fruit trees like plums, cherries and apples all bloom abundantly in spring. They come into flower just as spring bulbs are beginning to fade. Not only will such trees provide an abundant source of food later in the year. They can also help to boost biodiversity and help keep your organic garden healthy and productive over all.
In general, we should all do what we can to make sure we have flowers in bloom all year round. But especially in the early spring, when there are fewer food sources for pollinators around. What is blooming in your garden right now? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.