What We Can Do in Our Gardens to Help Pollinators
From Spring to Fall
It is very important to provide continuous access to nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. The safest way to achieve this is to intentionally plant native flowers, shrubs, and trees that flower early in Spring and late in Fall along with our well-known Summer flowers.
The larvae of butterflies are often very picky eaters and can only eat and survive on one species or family of plants. E.g. Monarch butterfly caterpillars can only eat Milkweed, Black Swallowtail larvae feed on the closely related plants of Dill, Carrot, Celery, and Queen Anne's lace.
Provide Nesting Sites
For our Wild Bees
All native bees, besides the bumblebee, are solitary and make their nest in the ground or in cavities. This means leaving some soil in sunny areas uncovered and undisturbed is crucial for their survival. These areas can not be covered with mulch, gravel or artificial turf. The soil should not be disturbed from early fall to late spring. When it rains these areas can become muddy and can serve as a building material for bees and birds.
Keep Overwintering Sites
For Native Bees and Butterflies
One-third of native bees nest in dry or rotting wood. Raspberry stalks are among their favourite nesting sites. Keep stems on all the plants till the very end of May. If you chose to prune, keep pruned stems in a standing position.
Fallen branches and all other stems can be stacked up into a pile. Bees will use them over winter and vacate them by June. That's when you can safely put them in the yard waste.
Alternatively, leave them in the pile to create a permanent bug hotel.
Adult butterflies hibernate and chrysalis overwinter in logs and loose bark.
Avoid Disturbance of the Soil
70% of bees nest in soil, therefore it is important to avoid disturbing it.
Digging and tilling should be avoided. Only remove weeds by hand. This method allows the pool of dormant weed seeds to stay buried in the soil so that they don't get a second chance to germinate. This is the only way to dramatically reduce weeds in the long run and therefore practised by the city and botanical gardens.
In Our Gardens and Parks
Invasive plants often outcompete native species. Since they disrupt the food chain, they can cause total collapse and eradication of native ecosystems. This includes necessary fungi and bacteria in the soil, as well as insects, birds, and mammals. Across Toronto, we struggle with dog strangling vine, which is extremely aggressive. It tricks Monarchs into laying eggs on it even though the larvae cannot eat it. Therefore it is important to identify invasive plants and learn how to eradicate them from our gardens and communities. Unfortunately, also the parks around the Bluffs suffer extensively from invasive species.
Even the honey bee is non-native and can outcompete our wild bees if nectar sources are scarce. They also can threaten the health of native bees by transmitting diseases that circulate in big numbers in a hive.
Never use Pesticides
Herbicides, Insecticides or Bt
Pesticides and herbicides don't exclusively kill unwanted bugs and weeds. They kill everything from butterfly eggs to beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When we use any chemicals, we destroy the incredibly complex balance that nature provides to heal and perpetuate itself.
Unfortunately, many plants and seeds sold in garden centres are still treated with neonicotinoids, which are pesticides affecting the nervous system of all insects, resulting in paralysis and death.
Unfortunately, even the natural house remedies or even water blasting will destroy all insects, including their eggs and larvae. By growing a variety of native plants, insect predators will achieve a balance.
Provide a Water Source
Bees and Butterflies need safe water sources.
Bees need a very shallow saucer with sticks and stones as landing areas that allow safe access to water. They can drown easily if they can't hold onto something. Mud patches are also excellent for bees to hydrate and get minerals.
To avoid mosquitoes, water needs to be changed regularly.
For butterflies, fill a shallow dish with sand and add a little water. Butterflies get minerals that way.
Provide a Sunny Spot
for Butterflies to Bask in the Sun
Butterflies love sunny places because they are cold-blooded
and need to warm up their bodies in order to fly.
Help butterflies collect nectar throughout the day by growing nectar-rich plants in various spots that receive sun at different times of the day.
Provide stones in sunny areas where butterflies can rest and recharge.
Keep Seed Heads and Stems on the Plants
Native flowers supply the best seeds for overwintering birds or to fuel up before migrating.