Time to plan a pollinator garden

Time to plan a pollinator garden

One of the joys of winter is when the seed and plant catalogues arrive in the mail. Warm memories of spring and summer jump from the glossy pictures of plump vegetables and colorful flowers. The catalogues are a brief respite from the dreary winter shades of white and gray.

Anticipation has me thinking about planting a pollinator garden this spring. I am interested in providing three season food sources for the countless bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects inhabiting or visiting our backyard. I believe the garden is the least I can do for these creatures who help ensure the reproduction of more than 75 percent of the flowering plants on the planet. Unfortunately, many pollinators, which include bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and more, are suffering declining populations. Providing habitat and nourishment is vitally important.

I have already started thinking of where to plant the garden, and what plants to include. Planning starts with good resources, so I thought I would share a few of them with you today and hope that you will consider installing a pollinator-friendly garden at your house, too.

When it comes to researching information related to the natural world, agriculture or horticulture I start with our region’s state sources found at Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, UCONN College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and the UMASS Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. The advice they provide fits the local climate here in southern New England, which is important when considering gardening in our region.

Before researching what plants to put in my pollinator garden I looked at sources of information on pollination and which pollinators are the most important. I found the CT DEEP information on Pollinators in Connecticut to be helpful.

You can find the link to the article here:


The article notes “over the past decade, scientists have increasingly talked about pollinator declines – the noted decrease in these beneficial insects across the globe. Commercial honey bee hives have been experiencing significant losses in recent years, prompting investigation into its causes.”

I found the UMASS website and UCONN websites had helpful information on planting for pollinators. Both websites provide suggestions for plants to look for on your property and which you may want to plant.

When we think of pollinators we tend to focus on herbaceous plants, however UMASS provides information on several shrub and tree species common in New England that are also important sources of food. Their website also lists a blooming calendar from the months of April through October. This information is helpful when looking for a variety of plants that bloom throughout the growing season.

Here is a link to their page.


The UCONN website for gardening for bees also included a list of shrubs and trees for attracting bees as well as helpful advice. They suggest that you “plant in drifts, using three or more plants of the same genus in a small group, rather than using just one type of plant in several spots. Bees will find easier access to their favorite flowers when they are located near each other.

Here is a link to the UCONN page:


Now that I have the information on the type of plants I can select for my new pollinator garden I started looking for sources of the plants. I would prefer to purchase the plants and shrubs from a local source and also want to focus on native plants. One source close to me in Hampton is the Richard Haley Gardens at Goodwin Forest. The garden was created in memory of naturalist and field researcher Richard D. Haley. The garden is maintained by master gardeners and volunteers. They also do plant sales usually from May to October and I hope to get over there in the growing season to check it out, speak with the gardeners and purchase some plants. The Goodwin website also indicates all their “perennials are raised from seed without use of chemical fertilizers so they will be hardy in your landscape.”

Here is a link to their website:


Another source of plants is the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District (ECCD) for their annual fundraiser in April. The list of plants and ordering forms will be posted on their website soon. They have pollinator-friendly plants and do not sell invasive plants. There is a tab where you can subscribe to their mailing list, a good way to be no notified when the plant sale begins. Check out their website at:

Before planning a garden I wanted to get a good read on the suggested plants that I already have blooming on our property. In the lists of suggested shrubs and trees from UCONN and UMASS I already have apple, blueberry, chokeberry, crabapple, raspberry, and red maple. I am interested in getting winter berry and putting some along our back stonewall. For annual and perennials I already have aster, black-eyed Susan, clover, coneflower, dandelion (lots of them) goldenrod, milkweed, and violets. Most of these plants volunteered into our back pasture and lawn (where I let them go through the bloom and seed cycle before mowing).

For a pollinator garden I will move the coneflower and back-eyed Susan that we planted a few years ago to a new garden located near the vegetable garden. I will follow the UCONN suggestion of planting in drifts of more than one plant and will get more coneflower and black-eyed Susan for this purpose. I may transplant some of our milkweed as well, but will get some advice from others as I plan out exactly which plants to put together in a single garden plot of about 10 to 15 feet in diameter. I will continue my research and will report back in a future column how I did with my new pollinator garden.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. Our important pollinators need our help and I hope you’ll join me in planting a pollinator garden this year.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org


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