3 mistakes to avoid when creating pollinator habitat

Creating a pollinator habitat is one of the best and easiest ways to increase your lawn’s biodiversity. But supporting native pollinators can be complicated, especially in areas where they don’t have much habitat available. Ensure success when you create a pollinator habitat by avoiding these three mistakes.

Mistake 1: focusing just on flowers

While it’s true that pollinators rely on flowers for nectar as adults, these animals have a complicated life cycle with many other needs as well. When you are creating a pollinator habitat, in addition to native flowers you should provide:

  • native host plants with edible leaves for larvae (especially oak, cherry, and willow trees)
  • native plants with hollow stalks that larvae can live in during winter
  • a water source
  • appropriate soil conditions for native pollinator species. This could be sand, clay, deep mulch and leaf litter, etc.
we created this pollinator habitat and saw monarch butterflies the first year
A monarch butterfly enjoys a zinnia bloom

You should also consider the timing of your blooms when creating a pollinator habitat. Flowers in early spring and summer are great, but the animals coming to your habitat may be in for some hard times if they can’t find food after September. There are unlimited details you can consider, explained in The Unlawning Guide. But keeping it simple and small at first will help you take new information in stride.

Mistake 2: creating generalist pollinator habitat

If you plant non-native flowers in your pollinator habitat, you put a low ceiling on the potential ecological benefits. Using a large variety of native perennials is the best approach to promote biodiversity and maximize the benefits of your pollinator habitat.

The reason it’s so important to use native plants is that many native pollinators are specialists. They can only complete their lifecycle if a specific plant or two can be found. This is why movements to save Monarch butterflies focus heavily on planting milkweed. The monarch doesn’t need milkweed nectar as an adult, but monarch larvae (caterpillars) can only eat a few kinds of leaves, and their favorite is milkweed.

creating pollinator habitat with goldenrod and asters will bring in specialists and generalists
Pollinators on your goldenrod will attract native birds as well. Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Other native butterflies and bees are dependent on certain goldenrod, aster, or coneflower species. So, create your pollinator habitat using a wide variety native plants to take care of the specialists. Generalist pollinators, the ones that are happy to visit any flower and eat many kinds of leaves, will visit any of the plants the specialists rely on.

Mistake 3: trying to control habitat like a garden

The pollinator habitat you create is like a buffet for bugs. Along with pollinators, you might find slugs and aphids. And before you can pull out your garden pesticide, you notice flowers in need of dead-heading, and you wonder about adding some fertilizer to keep those blooms coming.

But what effect will this kind of management have on the ecological function of your pollinator habitat? Some of these practices, especially the use of pesticides, will severely damage your habitat’s productivity. Generally speaking, your pollinator habitat differs from a traditional garden in that:

  • no fertilizer or pesticide is needed (adding compost may be an exception)
  • dead stems and branches should be left alone
  • prune plants for shape infrequently, depending on the plant species
a butterfly enjoys native pollinator habitat
Pollinator habitat doesn’t need deadheading. Photo by Rajukhan Pathan on Pexels.com

Remember, you created a pollinator habitat to provide for the needs of these animals that serve as the foundation for our ecological wellbeing. Generally speaking, habitats appear untidy compared to manicured landscaping.

How to create the best pollinator habitat

For a successful habitat, it’s important to leave it alone. Don’t fret over an individual plant that dies. You can put off weeding for months at a time. Remember that the pollinator habitat you’re creating will be around for decades. So, the first few years are about creating the conditions needed for nature to come back into the lawn environment. For increasing the ecological benefits of the rest of your lawn, read How to create an eco friendly lawn.