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Planting a Pollinator Container Garden

There’s a lot of buzz in the air about pollinators. These hardworking bugs and birds are facing more challenges than ever, and gardeners want to do their part to help. We’ve written before about pollinator-friendly gardening, but what if you only have a small space to spare? Anyone can provide a little patch of habitat with a pollinator container garden. 

Why plant a pollinator container garden?

Thousands of pollinator species call this region home, including honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and birds. As more soil is covered in concrete and we humans rely more heavily on pesticides, pollinators are struggling to find stable habitat and safe food sources.

Urban and suburban gardeners have an important opportunity to help. Organizations like Bee City USA, the Xerces Society, and the Pollinator Pathway project are already placing urban pollinator habitat, including individual home gardens, at the center of a movement to create a better future for pollinators.

Gardeners can help create connected habitat corridors. Pollinators often travel long distances and need to refuel often. For these tiny, hard-working critters, even the smallest pollinator container garden can make for a much-needed rest stop between destinations.

Creating your mini habitat

Any container can become a pollinator pot: a ceramic pot, a hanging basket, even an “up-cycled” item like an old plastic bucket. Once you’ve chosen the right container for you, it’s time to plant.

Pollinator plants

Blooming salmonberry

Salmonberry attracts hummingbirds and bees in the early spring, and berry-loving songbirds in the summer. It would make a unique centerpiece in a large container.

The main purpose of a pollinator container garden is to provide pollinator food – nectar and pollen from beautiful blooms. This is a great opportunity to get creative! From annuals to perennials to edible herbs and vegetables, you can choose from a huge selection of pollinator-friendly plants.

Try incorporating some flowering plants that are native to this area, which will especially appeal to native pollinators. Larger pots might feature salal, Oregon grape, or evergreen huckleberry. Low-growing natives like kinnikinnick, blue-eyed grass, and shooting star are great choices for smaller containers. Stop by the native plant table in Sky’s greenhouse for more ideas.

Consider the bloom times of the plants you choose, and provide blooming flowers for as much of the growing season as possible. That way, your visiting pollinators can count on a continuous food supply. Although insect pollinators go dormant in freezing temperatures, our native Anna’s hummingbirds will appreciate winter bloomers such as mahonia.

Water and shelter

Just providing nectar, pollen, and a little shade will help your local pollinators, but some gardeners will want to go above and beyond. In the heat of summer, you can provide a shallow dish of water for your insect pollinators. Add some gravel to the bottom so they can perch safely while drinking. You could even build a pollinator hotel to provide much-needed nesting space.

Bee safe: sustainably grown flowers

bumblebee visiting pink flowers

 

Perennials for pollinators

Sky Nursery carries many sustainably grown flowering plants that are free of neonicotinoid pesticides and other chemicals that may harm pollinators. After Mother’s Day, we’ll set up our “pollinator plants” display in the center of the greenhouse, and that’s a great place to start. You’ll find a beautiful selection of 100% neonicotinoid-free flowers that are favorites of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. 

Local and sustainable blooms

We’re proud to feature a selection of sustainably grown annuals by small, local farms such as Rents Due Ranch and Langley Fine Gardens. You’ll find old standbys by these growers such as annual salvia, nasturtiums, calendula, nicotiana, bread seed poppies, and bachelor buttons. We also have some new and unusual options from Langley this year, selected specifically for their pollinator appeal. 

Three of our specialty pollinator selections from Langley Fine Gardens. From left to right: corn-cockle (Agrostemma githago),  lace flower (Ammi majus), and blue tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia).

Three of our specialty pollinator selections from Langley Fine Gardens. From left to right: corn-cockle (Agrostemma githago), lace flower (Ammi majus), and blue tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia).

 

 Edible pollinator plants 

a wonderful planting in a parking strip in Seattle

Making the most of a small space with a parking strip garden

As long as you’re feeding your pollinators, why not provide for yourself and your human friends at the same time? Many container-friendly edibles are great for pollinators and people alike.

Vegetables

Tomatoes, squash, and legumes like beans and peas all produce flowers that pollinators love, and all come in dwarf varieties perfect for a patio pot. If you allow your lettuce and mustard to go to seed at the end of the season, you’ll be sure to see diverse pollinators visiting those blooms too. 

Small fruits

Why not grow some berries too? Strawberries and patio varieties of blueberries or raspberries make great pollinator plants, and including them in a pollinator container garden full of flowers will improve your yields.

Flowering herbs

rosemary

rosemary

Flowering edible herbs such as thyme, oregano, borage, chervil, and chives are some of the best plants for small pollinator containers. Your insect visitors will enjoy the flowers, and you can eat the leaves. Other pollinator favorites such as rosemary, sage, and lavender can make wonderful centerpieces for larger containers in sunny locations.

Happy growing!