How to Help Pollinators in Your Own Backyard

How to Help Pollinators in Your Own Backyard

The Zoo’s pollinator grow zones, planted with native grass and wildflowers, have been growing for five years now. After planting native milkweed last fall, this is the first spring we’ve seen monarch eggs and caterpillars in our gardens!
 
This monarch caterpillar (left) is less than half an inch long! After two weeks of eating milkweed, the caterpillar will form a chrysalis. After another week, the insect will emerge as an adult monarch butterfly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
On this year’s Earth Day, we’re challenging you to make a difference for the littlest critters on your very own chunk of the earth – your backyard. All species of pollinators are threatened by habitat alteration and pesticide use. But there are ways to contribute to the longevity of these species and make a difference. Just planting native flowers and leaving designated areas of your yard “ungroomed” will attract pollinators, but there’s more to do for those who are willing and able. Keep reading for manageable tips on how to help pollinators in your own backyard.
 
  1. Small home gardens planted with Texas-native plants have the opportunity to make an immense impact in providing food sources for native pollinators. If garden space is limited, focus on the “powerhouse” plants like mealy-blue sage (Salvia farinacea) and mistflower (Conoclinium greggli or Conoclinium coelestium).
  2. Need to plant new trees but not sure which species? Go for native oak trees. They support more than 500 other species. Plus, they make a great addition to your property by providing much needed shade from the Texas sun!
  3. Remove invasive plant species and replace them with native species. A very popular non-native plant species is Nandina – a plant that produces berries toxic to wildlife.
  4. Come autumn, let the leaves remain where they fall or move them to a designated area on your property until April. Many native pollinators overwinter and reproduce in the leaves. Removing the leaves wipes out the next generation of pollinators. There are more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America and 70% of them nest in the ground!
  5. Provide access to shelter and nesting areas for birds and insects. Don’t cut back native plants until April so that the insects living inside and under them can stay protected and reproduce.
  6. Avoid fertilizers and pesticides. These are one of the main reasons for the decline in pollinator populations and can also be harmful to human health.
  7. When buying plants from big box stores, always check the scientific name to make sure it’s the right species for your area. Most often, if it has a name in quotes, it is not one you want to plant. Wildflower.org and the USDA plant database are great online sources to help with this.
  8. Plant native milkweed. Monarchs need milkweed to make their migration and reproduce. When purchasing milkweed to plant, avoid tropical milkweed, as it is not native to Texas and blooms at the wrong time, therefore confusing monarch migrations.
  9. Plant natural hummingbird feeders. That’s right, you don’t need a fancy feeder with special bird seed to feed these pollinators. Plant flowers like crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and autumn sage (Salvia gregii) and the hummingbirds will follow soon after! Just be sure to avoid the Japanese invasive honeysuckle plant when purchasing from big box stores.
  10. Keep your cats inside. Cats are the number-one predator of native wildlife, causing more extinctions than any other invasive species. Protect nature and prevent extinctions by keeping your cats indoors.
 
Even the smallest of spaces can be transformed into a pollinator grow zone. See the before and after photos here.
These photos show the beauty of removing invasive species and replacing them with native ones. Not only is this prairie wildrye grass beautiful, it’s healthy for and supportive of native pollinator species.
 
If helping pollinator populations and creating beauty in your backyard isn’t convincing enough to plant native grasses and wildflowers, it’s important to know that planting these species involves little effort. All of the Zoo’s pollinator grow zones were planted simply by hand-spreading seed. No major gardening required!
 
Visit wildflower.org and the USDA plant database to learn more about species native to your home and get started today!