Gardening for Native Pollinators

By Huntington Ranch Garden intern, Christine Olanio


Native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds play an important role in gardens, agricultural farms, and in the wider ecosystem by providing beneficial pollination services. By mimicking nature’s ecosystems in your own garden through thoughtful planning and plant selection, you can ensure the production of seeds in most flowering plants in an ecologically sustainable way. Three ways to create a pollinator-friendly garden is to select the right habitat, proper food, and water supply for the native pollinators you want to attract.




Unlike the honey bee, native bees are primarily non aggressive loners and are ground nesting. Patches of bare soil in a well-drained area of the garden is their preferred habitat. Others, like carpenter and mason bees, are cavity nesters in standing wood and in pithy plant stems. To attract these bees, place a log or stump upright, scatter pieces of dead wood near any flowering plants, and refrain from over-manicuring your landscape.


To attract butterflies, select plants that provide nectar to adults and may also host butterfly larvae. California milkweeds do both.


Hummingbirds spend the majority of their day perching, surveying their territory and dozing off. Trees or large shrubs provide the perfect environment for them to perch and build nests.


Monarch Butterfly



Bees tend to prefer the nectar and pollen from blue, white, pink and pale red flowering plants. Composite flowers, such as yarrow and native sunflowers, are recommended for their broad landing space while native wildflowers, such as clarkias and California poppies, will attract a more diverse selection of bees.


Adult butterflies prefer tubular-shaped flowers like those of the native penstemons or sages, but they are also attracted to various native sunflowers. They also eat tree sap, pollen, and rotting fruit. Fruit-bearing trees in addition to flowering shrubs and flowers, will provide butterflies with multiple sources of food.


If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden, choose plants with flowers that bloom and produce nectar in the early months of spring, during the hummingbirds' breeding season. Bright red flowers and those with a tubular shape, such as the California fuchsia, Eaton’s penstemon and the chuparosa, are hummingbird favorites.





In addition to proper plants, providing a source of water will also invite native pollinators to your garden. Try filling a shallow dish of water with lava rocks to attract bees. Butterflies and other beneficial insects will seek out small puddles or muddy spots in your garden, while hummingbirds prefer trickling or splashing water from a fountain or water feature, rather than standing water in bird baths or ponds.

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