How You Can Help Pollinators
Give them Healthy Food
Just like us, pollinators need healthy food to live. Many pollinators rely on flower nectar for energy, and flower pollen for protein and other nutrients. By growing pollinator-friendly plants, you can help pollinators survive.
Grow pollinator-healthy plants
A pollinator garden is like a conventional flower garden, but filled with plants that provide healthy nutrition for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Many non-native ornamental plants are pretty to look at, but they either don’t have nutritious nectar, or they have flowers that pollinators can’t get into. It’s kind of like putting fake fruit on a banquet table.
Before you start or add to your garden, refer to pollinator-friendly plant lists created for our region. You’ll find there are many native and non-native plants to choose from.
- University of Minnesota Bee Lab: Plants for Minnesota Bees
- Minnesota Zoo: What to Plant for Pollinators
- Xerces Society: Pollinator Plants for the Great Lakes Region (PDF)
- MN Board of Water and Soil Resources: Native Plant Selection List (PDF)
Focus on native plants
The pollinators in our area evolved along with the native plants, so they’ve been eating from the same plants for a very long time. Some pollinators, like the Monarch butterfly, have become so specialized that they rely on a very small number of plant species for food or nesting. By planting flowers that are native to the Coon Rapids area, you’re more likely to give native pollinators the food they’re looking for.
See the links in the section above for lists of native plants for pollinators.
Plant for diversity
Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators come in many shapes and sizes. There are thousands of pollinator species in Minnesota, including over 400 species of native bees. Many pollinators specialize in the types of flowers they eat from. For example, bees can only eat from flowers that match the size of their bodies and length of their tongues. Short-tongued bees need shallow flowers, while long-tongued bees feed on deep bell-shaped flowers. Tiny bees need open flowers, while big bumblebees can muscle their way into closed blossoms. And the Monarch butterfly lays its eggs exclusively on milkweed. Of course you can’t feed every pollinator with one garden, but by planting a variety of flowers with different shapes, sizes, and bloom times, you can help a more diverse group of pollinator species.
Consider trees and shrubs
We most often think of flower gardens when we think of pollinators, but flowering trees and shrubs are just as valuable in providing nectar and pollen. Many trees, like crabapple and red maple, and shrubs, like red twig dogwood and serviceberry, provide blossoms in early spring, before many flowering plants have emerged from the ground.
See the University of Minnesota’s list of Trees and Shrubs for Pollinators.
Get plants only from trusted sources
There are many garden centers and online nurseries that sell plants that attract pollinators. Before you buy plants from a garden center or online shop, make sure their plants are free of pesticides that could harm bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
For more information on buying pollinator-safe plants, see:
Give them shelter
Bees and other pollinators need places to live and to develop their young. But perfectly manicured lawns and extremely tidy gardens don’t provide spaces for pollinators to nest. Without nesting places nearby, a pollinator garden is like a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It may feed the occasional passerby, but it won’t have regular customers.
Unlike honeybees, native pollinators don’t live in hives or other man-made houses. Most native bees nest in the ground, while others nest in brush piles or cavities in wood. Many native bees lay their eggs in hollow plant stems, with larvae taking almost a year to develop. In order to help pollinators, it’s important to leave some places in your yard for bees and other pollinators to nest and develop.
For more detailed information on how you can help give pollinators safe shelter, see:
Protect them from pesticides
Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Pesticide use has increased in both agricultural and residential areas, and pollinators have suffered because of it. While it’s sometimes necessary to use pesticides to treat a disease or infestation, it’s important to use the least-toxic option available. If you use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach for weed and pest control, you can make your yard a much safer place for pollinators.
For more information about pollinators, pesticides, and pest management, see:
- Xerces Society: The Risks of Pesticides to Pollinators
- MN Department of Agriculture: Insect Pollinator Best Management Practices for MN Yards and Gardens (PDF)
- University of Minnesota: Guide to Integrated Pest Management (PDF)
Spread the Word
You don’t have to save the pollinators by yourself. You can help spark others' curiosity.
When you start with pollinator-friendly gardening and yard care, your neighbors may be curious. Use the opportunity to share what you know about pollinators, and why you're working to protect them.
What the City of Coon Rapids is doing for pollinators
To find out what the City of Coon Rapids is doing to protect pollinators, and how city ordinances apply to pollinator plantings, read Protecting Pollinators in Coon Rapids.
- MN Board of Soil and Water Resources Planting for Pollinators Design Guide
- MN Board of Soil and Water Resources Lawns to Legumes Program page
- University of Minnesota Extension: Growing landscapes to help bees and other pollinators
- MN Board of Soil and Water Resources Pollinator Toolbox