As the new year begins, resolve to improve yourself and the environment by planting a pollinator-friendly garden. The flowers will add beauty to your environment and will provide food sources and habitat for butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bees, wasps and other beneficial creatures. Your garden will also allow you to spend time outdoors and connect with nature.

Pollinators are disappearing. Habitat loss, misuse of chemicals and invasive plant and animal species account for much of the population declines. By planting a pollinator-friendly garden, we can begin to restore valuable habitat and support pollinators.

A pollinator garden contains native flowering plants that attract pollinators. The pollinators transfer pollen from flower to flower and within flowers, thus ensuring the plant’s reproduction. Many blooming plants, including food-producing plants, depend on pollinators for survival. Without pollinators, plants cannot reproduce. Without plants, animals (including humans) will die.

Pollinator garden

This front yard pollinator garden is edged with large individual stones that set it off from the lawn, making it look intentional and attractive. Pollinator plants include spotted bee balm, liatris/blazing star, coneflower, Joe Pye weed, butterfly weed and ironweed.

Choose a location

The first step in creating your pollinator garden is to choose your location. A spot that receives at least six hours of sun each day is ideal. A small corner or area visible from a window, an area against a fence, an oval in the middle of your lawn, or even a cluster of containers will work.

Prepare the soil

Next, remove any grass, weeds, or flowers currently growing in your chosen location. It may be helpful to water the area the day before you tackle this chore, to make the soil easier to work. After all plants have been removed, not turned under, spade the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches.

Choose your plants

Texas native plants are the ideal choice. They are often drought tolerant, require less maintenance, and are attractive to native pollinators and wildlife. Native plants and pollinators have evolved together to adapt to local soil, climate, and growing conditions. Non-native plants often do not provide adequate nectar. Choose plants that bloom at various times of the year to provide pollen and nectar sources throughout the seasons and different life cycle stages. In addition to nectar plants, also include host plants, the plants on which butterflies lay their eggs and which are needed as food for the caterpillars. The more diverse your plantings are, the more pollinators your garden will attract.

Color, form, and fragrance

Choose plants with a wide range of flower colors, shapes, sizes and fragrances to accommodate the unique feeding preferences of each type of pollinator. Butterflies are attracted to red, orange and yellow flowers, while hummingbirds prefer red, fuchsia and purple. Bees like yellow, purple and blue shades. Butterflies prefer flat, open flowers because they need to land before feeding. Hummingbirds, with their long beaks and tongues, prefer unscented tubular flowers. Fragrant flowers signal many pollinators, especially bees, and some that only come out at night, such as moths and bats.

Seeds or transplants?

Although seeds are more economical, they will require more time. Disperse seeds in the fall or early winter to allow them time to germinate. Transplants will cost more, but are usually easier to use and will bloom faster.

Planting layout

When putting your plants into the ground, consider the mature height of the plants in your design. Place taller plants to the back if your bed is against a wall or fence. Place taller plants in the center if your bed is visible all the way around. Layer the plants down in height, with the shortest in the front or outside edges. Space your plants to allow for growth. To attract more pollinators, consider planting in clusters of three, five, or seven by species. After planting, water thoroughly. Add mulch to discourage weeds and hold moisture.

Be patient. It takes time for butterflies and other pollinators to locate your garden. Enjoy your garden and the pollinators, knowing you have taken a step toward improving the environment.

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The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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