Gardening for Pollinators


Have you ever wondered about pollinators and how their lives happen to be so intertwined with our very own lives? Without pollinators, much of the food we eat would not be available for our nourishment and our enjoyment! After wondering about this for awhile, I decided to look into their life cycle to see how we all fit together. It seems to start with ecosystems.


The Earth is made up of naturally occurring geographical areas with similar climate, geology and soils. Within each of those ecoregions, typically there are a number of ecological regions referred to as ecosystems made up of plants, animals, birds, butterflies, insects, organisms and the physical environment or habitat in which they live. Typically, all these elements in the ecosystem develop a mutually dependent relationship which becomes a Circle of Life.

Ordway Prairie, Pope County, Minnesota. Photo by Peter Dziuk, Minnesota Wildflowers.

Pollination and the Circle of Life

Pollination is a very important element of the Circle of Life. Why? Because the Circle of Life starts with plants and most plants depend upon pollination to reproduce.

  • Plants absorb sunlight energy through photosynthesis – solar power!
  • They use that energy to produce more plant material from water, carbon dioxide in the air, and nutrients from the soil.
  • In the process they give off oxygen – thank goodness!
  • Herbivores (primary consumers) eat the plants and use the nutrients to produce more herbivore.
  • Predators (secondary consumers ) eat the herbivores and use the nutrients to produce more carnivore.
  • When death comes, a vast suite of soil organisms (bacteria and fungi) decompose the material, returning the nutrients to the soil.
  • Which makes the nutrients available for plants to take up again, completing the Circle of Life.

Pollination is a reproductive process. Flowers offer food (nectar) to pollinators in exchange for reproduction. It occurs when pollen is transferred from the anther (male part of flower) to the stigma (female part of flower). And, it’s important to life because without pollination, we would not have vegetables and fruits to eat, and plants could not reproduce from season to season.

What Role do Pollinators Play?

Although some pollen is dispersed by the wind, birds, butterflies, bees and other insects and animals are the main transporters of pollen between flowers, hence the term pollinators. They carry the pollen which is a fine powdery dust found in the male part of the plant (anther) and contains the plant’s sperm to the female part of the plant (stigma). Some pollinators have special structures by which they carry the pollen — like the native bees. Others like butterflies, bats and other insects carry the pollen from one flower to another when it affixes itself to their bodies, legs and wings.

Gardening for Pollinators

Flowers and pollinators co-evolved, developing features that make the exchange of pollen and nectar successful. To support native pollinators, we need to grow the native plants with which they evolved. Because they evolved together, native plants have the “right” features. Here are some examples.

Native habitat is disappearing rapidly in our USA as fencerows are being destroyed for crop farming and land is being developed for residential, commercial and manufacturing use.* It is important to support pollinators by growing native plants to provide nectar and pollen throughout the seasons, and to make sure host plants are included that provide food and shelter for larval development. It is also important to provide access to clean water and to create variable heights for shelter and nesting. Above all, use insecticides sparingly, if at all.

Lastly, tolerate a little mess – leave dead snags and leaf litter, keep some areas bare for ground nesting insects, and tolerate non-noxious, non-invasive weeds that provide food and shelter for pollinators.

*According to Doug Tallamy in the film Hometown Habitat, only 5% of our land remains as native habitat. 42% is being used for crop framing and 53% for development.

See also A Naturally Landscaped Yard and A Living Landscape Mimics Nature. Although focusing on birds, these yard designs are appropriate for pollinators as well.

Garden Design from Previous Posts

Small Corner Native Plant Garden

Are Cultivars Pollinator-Friendly?

Trees and Shrubs for Early Pollinators

Trees and Shrubs for Early Nesters


About Author

Leave A Reply