Create pollinator “pads” in your garden

“There is a flower that bees prefer/And butterflies desire;/To gain the purple democrat/The humming-birds aspire.” ~ Emily Dickenson, “Purple Clover,” 1890 

In Sunday’s column (January 29, 2017), I wrote about the importance and gardening pleasures of attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to our gardens. I also provided some examples of vegetables, herbs, and flowers that appeal to different kinds of pollinators. It’s important to keep in mind that butterfly larvae – caterpillars – often require different host plants than adult butterflies, so it’s a good idea to have some of each kind of host plant available in the garden. Here is a useful listing of plants for both caterpillars and butterflies.

In addition to having their favorite plants available, butterflies need water to drink, which they suck up through a mouth part called a probiscis. Butterflies prefer to drink from puddles, which can be created during our dry months with a shallow pan filled with a mound of sand in the middle and surrounded by water. Place in a somewhat shady location to prevent the pan or water from becoming too hot. An optimal butterfly habitat will also have at least 5 hours of sunlight every day and protection from wind.

At night, butterflies rest underneath plant leaves, in small crevices between rocks or wood, or among the stems of woody plants. Some gardeners enjoy making or purchasing butterfly houses, while other gardeners say these houses are mostly used as garden art rather than by the butterflies.

Here is a comprehensive listing of butterflies that are seen in Oregon. Also, check out the Butterfly Pavilions during May-October at the Rusk Ranch Nature Center in Cave Junction, Oregon and at the Elkton Community Education Center in Elkton, Oregon. For several years, the Oregon Zoo in Portland has bred and released the endangered Silverspot butterfly species as part of its conservation program. In addition, there are several Monarch butterfly way stations in our area, including at the Coyote Trails School of Nature in Medford, OR and at the Demonstration Gardens at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, OR.

There are five species (out of about 340 species) of hummingbirds in Oregon, including Allen’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Calliope and Rufous hummers. According to the OSU Extension Service, Rufous hummingbirds are the most common in Oregon, but Anna’s are usually seen during wintertime. Hummingbirds spend much of their day visiting preferred plants for nectar; however, at night they sleep in vegetation or in holes they have drilled in trees or burrowed in the ground. Some hummingbirds even build nests just for sleeping.

Hummingbirds prefer to select their own nesting sites; however, some gardeners have successfully provided platforms and nesting material to encourage nest building. Birds and Blooms magazine has interesting information about hummingbird nests. Here is a site that describes simple steps to make a hummingbird platform for nesting.

Keep reading the Literary Gardener for my upcoming column and blog about one of the mightiest garden pollinators – the mason bee! In the meantime, here’s another, untitled, pollinator poem by Emily Dickenson:

The butterfly’s assumption-gown/In chrysoprase apartments hung/This afternoon put on./How condescending to descend/And be of buttercups the friend/In a New England town!/

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  • About the Author

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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