Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are important to the success of your fruit and vegetable garden. Many crops such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant won’t produce fruit or seeds without their help.
These beneficial critters transfer pollen from the male part of a flower to the female part of a flower, resulting in the formation of fruits and vegetables.
Bees are the most important pollinators because they spend their life collecting pollen. According to the California Master Gardener Handbook, bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. In addition, attracting pollinators also helps encourage other beneficial insects that can help control pests in your garden.
So, as you plan your spring and summer vegetable garden, leave room for some of the plants mentioned here. The Sacramento County Master Gardeners offer these pollinator-attracting planting suggestions:
• Install a wide variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year with several species blooming at once. Pollinators are active at different times of year. In our yard, the bees gather at the blooming rosemary plants during the winter, when little else is flowering.
• Plant in clumps. Bunches of flowers are more attractive to pollinators than single flowers.
• Include flowers of different shapes and colors. Bees are particularly attracted to flowers that are violet, blue, purple, white or yellow. Butterflies prefer bright red or purple.
• Choose natives. Many California pollinators prefer native plants.
• Janet Gerland of Northern California wholesale grower Devil Mountain Nursery recommends planting sages (Salvia) that bloom at different times of the year to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. Her choices include include Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) , California Blue Sage (Salvia clevelandii), Autumn sage (Salvia greggi), Salvia microphylla and (California White Sage (Salvia apiana).
• Plant non-hybrid flowers. Many hybrids have had their pollen, nectar or fragrance bred out of them, making them less attractive to pollinators.
• Eliminate or limit pesticides whenever possible. Pesticides can be harmful to pollinators. When a pesticide is needed, use the least toxic one.
• Provide nesting sites and food sources, such as nectar for hummingbird feeders and salt licks for butterflies.
California native plants that attract pollinators include California poppy, California Redbud, Lupine, Rosemary, Sunflower, Toyon, Western dogwood, Wild rose, Wild lilac (ceanothus) and White leaf manzanita. Other plants that pollinators enjoy: Agastache, Basil, Borage, Cosmos, Dicleptera, Hyssop, Lavender, Marjoram, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), Mint and Pincushion flower (Scabiosa).
And a final hint: some garden references may advise you to cut off flower heads to enhance the beauty of the foliage plant (such as for lamb's ears). If your goal is to attract garden good guys, let those flower heads stay.