Pollinator gardens are essential to U.S. food production. Around 75% of food crops in the U.S. rely on pollinators. Honeybees alone pollinate $10 billion of U.S. crops each year. However, a variety of environmental pressures — including habitat loss and pesticides — have threatened pollinators. To support them, gardeners create front- and backyard habitats that support insects, such as bees and butterflies; reptiles, such as lizards; birds, including hummingbirds; and mammals, such as bats. Read on for tips on starting or enhancing your very own New Mexico pollinator garden.
A Broad Look at New Mexico Pollinator Gardens
When planning a pollinator garden, it’s helpful to look at the big-picture strategy. Connect your planned landscape to the native landscape pollinators are accustomed to. Opt for native plans whenever possible. Additionally, choose cultivars (plant varieties) that pollinators will be familiar with. Specialized plants may have different colored or shaped flowers that pollinators aren’t familiar with and will then avoid. If you choose non-native plants, make sure they are not invasive. Cultivate your plants in groups to increase pollinator efficiency. A pollinator visiting the same type of plant again and again can work more effectively as it gathers and can transfer pollen to the same species easily.
Where you see pretty flowers, pollinators see food. They need access to this resource throughout the year, not just during summer when we most commonly grow flowering plants. Choose a variety of plants that bloom throughout the year to give pollinators ample access to their food source. Plan a diverse collection of plants to attract a variety of types of pollinators. A guide from the Pollinator Partnership advises, “Flowers of different color, fragrance, and season of bloom on plants of different heights will attract different pollinator species and provide pollen and nectar throughout the seasons.” Your garden will be more beautiful, too!
You can find a complete list of appropriate plants here. Here are a few examples of beautiful, colorful, and pollinator-friendly plants:
- Apache plume
- Common yarrow
- Wholeleaf Indian paintbrush
Pollinators don’t just need food. They also need protection from weather and predators, as well as space to carry out lifecycle functions like nesting and roosting. To do this, incorporate canopy layers, such as trees, shrubs, and different heights of perennial plants, into your yard. Grouping plantings together will help pollinators move through while remaining protected from predators. You may also consider building bee boxes to provide shelter for solitary, non-aggressive bees and/or leaving ground bare for other nesting insects.
Water is a precious resource in the desert — including for pollinators. Clean, reliable water is essential. Running water, like from a fountain or water feature, ponds, and small containers of water provide opportunities for drinking and bathing. Water sources should be shallow and/or have slanted sides so reptilian and mammalian pollinators can access the resource, too.
Maintaining a Pollinator Garden
First, it’s important to resist using pesticides. Because pollinators are threatened by pesticide use elsewhere, it’s important to create a safe environment for them in your garden. Second, resist the urge to keep your space too well manicured. Insects need leaf litter and bare ground as part of their habitats.
If you need funds to get your garden started, a home equity line of credit from State ECU could help you finance your project.