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  • Writer's picturePauline Handy

Creating An Outdoor Oasis: Native Plants and Pollinators

Whether gardening is a hobby you are passionate about or you prefer a gardener, learn ways to attract pollinators and naturally beautify outdoor spaces using native plants.


Pink cone flowers being pollinated by a Monarch butterfuly

Spending time at your main home or possibly your vacation condo? It doesn't matter where you are. You can create an environmental refuge that's rewarding and nourishes both your space and your soul. Learn here about native plants and tips to attract pollinators to your eco-friendly paradise.


Native plants


Most local nurseries have staff who can tell you about the plants that thrive in your area. These often include native plants, those that have been around for centuries. Native plants helped create the food chain that animals rely on for survival. Non-native foliage might be flashier at first, but many species are invasive and can rapidly destroy the fragile system that wildlife depends on.


Native plants are also good for the soil, holding it together with sturdy root systems that prevent it from eroding during rainstorms. A healthy native plant population can keep nutrient-rich soil from washing away and reduce flooding. As a bonus, studies show time spent in green spaces reduces anxiety and increases mental wellness.


From pollination to soil preservation, you can help your community by choosing native plants over exotic types.


Pollinators


Native plants are essential to a healthy ecosystem, and pollinators play a big part. Pollinators are animals that interact with flowering plants and carry the pollen dust to the next plant. Here are some examples of pollinators:


  • Ants, Bats, Bees, Beetles, Birds, Butterflies, Flies, Moths, Snails, Slugs, Wasps


Pollinators help flowering plants, including fruits and vegetables, reproduce. They’re essential in creating the food we eat and the plants that sustain our environment. Some pollinators aren’t as welcome as others, but they all play a role in the ecosystem.


Planting in your yard


First things first: Know your planting hardiness zone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, update for the first time since 2012, indicating what kinds of plants grow well in different areas. If you buy a live plant or start from seeds, check the label for the hardiness zone. When landscaping, consult the National Wildlife Federation’s database of native plants, shrubs and trees and even your gardner if you have staff employed.


If you’ve got a yard and you’re looking for drought-tolerant solutions that also attract pollinators, consider the following:


  • Vetiver grass is a natural soil binder whose roots grow downward up to 15 feet, acting as a biological wall against soil erosion.

  • Clover, once considered a lawn pest, is a delicate ground cover plant that prevents erosion and traps nitrogen to enrich the soil. Bees love clover flowers, and there are over 300 clover species. It’s also resistant to pet urine and droughts, meaning fewer brown patches in your lawn.

  • Coneflowers are butterfly magnets. They’re also drought-resistant with deep root systems that slurp up rainwater to help with ground saturation.

  • Lavender is a fragrant herb that requires less watering. Another bonus: Bees and butterflies can’t resist it.

  • Sunflowers have radiant blooms that beckon pollinators and extract harmful toxins from the air. You can even try compact versions for your porch.

Make sure your choices comply with the rules of your municipality, condo association or homeowners association. For example, some neighborhoods have plant height restrictions. Choose plants that fit your lifestyle, like how much time you have for maintenance.


Container gardening on a balcony or porch


Even if you’re occupying a secondary home that's limited to a porch or balcony, you don't have to give up on your outdoor oasis. You can still help out pollinators. First, make sure you can have plants in outdoor spaces in your building. Some places have rules that limit the plants you can have. Assess your patio or porch for space for planting pots, stakes and drip pans.


Also, take note of the sun’s position throughout the day: Is it primarily shady, sunny or mixed? Look for plants that thrive in pots and your level of sun exposure. Check out the Pollinator Partnership’s recipe cards to find native plants in your area.


Try some of these eco-friendly potted flora:


  • Bee balm attracts hummingbirds and bees. Look for compact varieties like “Petite Delight” for a balcony home.

  • Morning glory is a vine-like plant that creates a soft corner for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. You can cultivate a hanging pot or train them on a trellis for privacy. They can grow up to 10 feet, so plan wisely. If space is limited, you might want to take a pass.

  • Trumpet vine is a pollinator delight. You can grow the trumpet vine in a pot or a yard, but keeping it potted helps control its spread. Choose a large, deep container so its roots can thrive.

  • Tomato plants attract bees and birds. They’ll also provide you with fresh tomatoes. Some tomato plants can grow up to 10 feet tall. Limit yourself to the petite varieties, like “Tiny Tim” or “Patio Princess,” for container gardening.


Consider where you’ll store your plants during cold seasons. If you bring them indoors, you might also bring in pests. Some balcony gardeners recommend:


  • Soaking or spraying the plant with a nontoxic insecticidal soap

  • Spraying the plant, focusing the leaves on top and underside

  • Quarantining the plant and monitoring it for disease (If you have an extra bathroom, a shower is an ideal place.)

  • Repotting the plant into a new or freshly cleaned container with new potting soil


Talk to your gardener and your local nursery for ways to de-bug your plants before the first frost strikes.


Supporting native planting initiatives in your community


If planting isn’t your thing but you like the idea of turning unused land into garden space, you can donate services or support local businesses that do. Some communities have public outdoor garden spaces where you can volunteer.


If you own a vacant land parcel, consider turning it into a community garden or wildflower space. (Talk to your insurance agent to make sure your vacant land policy is current.)


Some communities have established wildlife conservations that support a healthy ecosystem of native plants and greenspace, like wetlands. Wetlands create natural beauty, sustain area wildlife and pollinators, and help control flooding. The added value of a community committed to using natural flood control systems, like wetlands and natural vegetation, is reduced flooding and soil runoff.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency has additional information on managing floodplains. Floodplain management, like eco-friendly building development, landscaping with native plants and irrigation techniques, could safeguard against future flooding.

These are just a few ideas to start your journey toward an outdoor oasis for you and your pollinating friends.


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