You may not think much about pollinators when you are adding flowers to your gardens in spring and summer – I know I didn’t – but considering these little guys when planting will guarentee you have a beautiful and beneficial garden all season long. Before you convince yourself that you don’t have a green thumb, check out my beginner’s guide to pollinator gardens (and great cut flowers!) below.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s level set with a few basic gardening terms you’ll want to know. Keeping it simple for you guys but feel free to drop me a comment if you want more details!
- Annuals – grow for the season and do not return after winter; typically characterized by bright, vibrant colors and fragrant perfumes
- Self-seeding Annuals – if allowed to go to seed (i.e. you don’t cut the dead flowers off) these plants will re-seed themselves and return as new plants the following spring
- Perennials – these plants grow through their season and return after winter; a good layer of mulch over them in the cooler months is recommended
- Plant Hardiness Zones – gardening standard that helps you determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a geographical location. Find your zone here.
- Pollinators – amazing little animals that cause plants to make fruit or seeds by moving pollen from one part of the plant to another
Now – First things first, let’s get you looking like a gardener! Just like cooking or building a house, it’s so much easier if you have the right tools. Tip: Keep an eye out for deep discounts on garden and outdoor items at the end of the summer.
4 Things Every Gardener (or wannabe) Should Own
- Garden Gloves – these are typically inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes and materials.
- Garden Shears – keep these clean and sharp to make cutting flowers easy for you and less jarring for the plant.
- A Garden Hat – don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! I got my first one this year and it is a lifesaver since the brim is large enough to cover my shoulders and protect them from the sun.
- Gardening Tool Set – a handheld, well-made shovel and trowel will be enough to get you started.
Now that you’re suited up, let’s get outside.
Potted or Planted?
You’ll be happy to know that it literally does not matter. I have a mixture of both in my garden and have seen that pollinators do not discriminate. If the thought of a huge garden project is more than you can stand, start with a few plants, in pots, in an area you have easy access to outside. As long as you remember to water the plants, you’re good.
Selecting Your Garden’s Location
While pollinators won’t really care what part of the yard you plant in, your flowers will. Make sure to check your seed packet or plant label to see what type of light the plant prefers. With varieties of beautiful flowers that like shade you are covered no matter the outdoor lighting conditions you are working with.
I am an avid gardener so I have flowerbed groupings (or zones) all over my yard. If you are just getting started pick the sunniest spot you can find. Full sun loving flowers also make great cut flowers! Tip: On a weekend, or day when you are at home, watch the way your yard gets sunlight at different times of the day. This will help you plan before you plant.
No Weeds Please
No matter the soil type, no plant wants to fight to survive in a bed full of weeds. To create a great starting point, use your trowel to turn over the soil and remove any weeds, crabgrass, etc. The key is to make sure you remove the root of what you are trying to get out otherwise you’ll be weeding it again in a few weeks. Tip: Adding a hardscape border with river rocks or bricks keeps weeds at bay by creating a barrier between your newly weeded bed and the rest of the yard.
[Before: seedlings & young plants emerging from a weed-free garden]
[After: happy plants growing a weed-free garden]
Planting Your Flowers
In some ways, planting from seed is so much easier than planting an immature plant but do what works best for you. I grow most of my annuals from seed and grow perennials from small starter plants. Herbs like dill and thyme have been impossible to get started from seed at my house this year so those will be planted as young plants next year!
Growing from Seeds
Seed packets should include information on how to plant the seed, when to plant it and what type of light it will need. Always read the back label of seed packs so you don’t miss instructions for seeds with special germination needs. If you are serious about creating a pollinator garden, consider purchasing organic seeds.
Over time, I’ve found that the best flowers to grow from seed (in my area) are foxgloves, hollyhocks, zinnias, cosmos and coneflowers. As it turns out, these are also great cut flowers in spring and summer. I kept trying sunflowers (which are usually pretty easy) but their leaves were too yummy and something kept eating them. Tip: If you’ve got the patience, don’t forget about planting bulbs like tulips in the fall. They’ll be well worth the wait come spring.
Since this post is for beginners, I won’t bore you with getting seeds started indoors in late winter, that’s another post entirely! For now just know that all of the seeds above can be scattered over loose soil and raked in to get them started. Seriously, throw and go. Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask someone at your local nursery for help. Most gardeners are always happy to share their knowledge and they’ll know more about what is native to your area. Native plants will always do better!
Growing from Established Plants
You would think this is as easy as it gets but not always. Gardener confession: I’ve totally killed store bought plants before. Some died because they were poor quality, some died because I didn’t plant them well.
To keep yours alive I recommend that you first get your plants from a high quality nursery. The plants should look vibrant and if you can find organic it’s a great option. Remember that you can save major money buying flowers that have passed their blooming season. You may have to wait until next year to enjoy them, but it can be worth it on some of the larger, more expensive plants. This trick will NOT work for annuals. Since, well, they’ll die the same year you plant them.
Since so many of the South’s trees and shrubs (perennials) also have gorgeous flowers, I like to mix them into my garden as well. These won’t require much attention once you get them established and many will take a while to get large so it’s really best to buy a mature plant.
Did you know that a camellia plant takes about 7 years from the time it’s planted as a seed to actually flower? I probably won’t even live in the same home in 7 years so I bought big ones on clearance and enjoy their flowers every year.
Regardless of what you are planting, make sure that the hole you dig is about 2 times as large as the plant’s root ball and that you firmly pack the plant down after putting it in the hole and filling the dirt back in. If you do not pack the plant in to remove air pockets from the hole, the plant will begin to die. Tip: If your plant’s leaves start to rot (think dark, sorta slimly, not good) see if the plant moves easily when you press down the soil around it. If it does, add more soil and press that baby down. FIRMLY.
Planting for Pollinators
So I saved this part for the end in an effort to woo you with all the promises of beautiful cut flowers and a gorgeous yard. The truth is, there is another important reason to plant.
Planting flowers will attract pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds and bees which are so fun and pretty to watch.
Our pollinators are also in trouble and are bees beginning to disappear at an alarming rate. There is a school of thought that blames GMO and non-organic plants for the increasing disappearance of our bees. Regardless of the reason, a silent spring is a problem for everyone. You can read more about that in this feature from Rolling Stone.
Did you know that some bees only pollinate a single plant species during their entire life? Think about that. If the pollinators go…the plants go too. Some estimates suggest that we (humans) could lose up to 1,700 varieties of plants (including their flowers and fruit) if the bees continue to decline. That means no more strawberries, or peaches, or almonds. The list goes on and on.
So what can you do? Plant some flowers!
Hopefully you’ve seen how easy it can be to add a garden area to your home. Whether you are in a small city apartment with only a tiny outdoor balcony or only have space around your mailbox – plant something. Plants give your house instant charm, you can enjoy fresh cut flowers throughout the spring and summer months and you’ll be doing the environment a solid.
What do you think? Easy enough? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and tag your social posts with #decormademedoit so I can see your photos!