How to Start a Pollinator Garden

All, Parks at Home
A hummingbird moth pollinates a flower.
You could attract pollinators like hummingbird moths to your garden.

Pollinators play a big role, but often come in small sizes like butterflies, bees and moths, among others. These creatures are essential to the food we eat. But sometimes pollinators need help finding the food they eat. You can help by creating a pollinator garden at home – it’s simpler than you think!

Planning Out Your Garden

Before you begin, find a spot on your property that gets ample sunlight. While many flowering plants can grow in the shade and sun, pollinators prefer to bask in the sun. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region recommends choosing wildflowers that grow best in full or partial sun with some protection from the wind. Be sure to remove grass and plant cover when you start planting.

Identify your soil type. There may be a certain plant you want to have in your garden, but it won’t survive without the right kind of soil. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service lists soil type by county via its Web Soil Survey. Click to open the survey, then select Hamilton County, Ohio for details. The Cincinnati area tends to have very deep, well-drained soils that are moderately deep to a fragipan (altered subsurface soil layers that restrict water flow and root penetration), but areas can vary.

A monarch butterfly enjoys the nectar of common milkweed.
Common milkweed is a favorite food among butterflies, bees and moths.

Choosing Plants

The first step is to choose local, native plants. Native plant species have evolved alongside their pollinators and thrive in our climate. Include a wide variety of native plants for your garden as well. The U.S. Forest Service recommends planting species that bloom from early spring through late fall so pollinators can visit your garden as a food source throughout the year.

Diversity of plant species is key to a successful pollinator garden. Choose nectar- and pollen-rich flowers in a range of shapes, sizes and colors. A few native plant species that local pollinators love include:

  • Wild blue phlox
  • Ironweed
  • Goldenrod
  • Aster
  • Purple coneflower
  • Blazing star
  • Common milkweed
  • Wild bergamot

Don’t forget about our nighttime pollinators! Moths and bats prefer plants that bloom at night with pale or white flowers that have a heavy fragrance and ample nectar.

Wild blue phlox
Wild blue phlox blooms in late spring. (Photo: Paul Seevers)

Upkeep

Just like with any plant, you will need to take care of your pollinator garden on a routine basis. To help your garden grow, weed and water regularly to keep it healthy. How often you water depends on the types of plants, so be careful not to overwater.

Water smaller, pocket gardens with a watering can to keep an eye on both your plants’ progress and to see if any weeds are popping up. Weeding by hand is the best route so not to disturb any plants. Don’t use weed killers or pesticides on your garden. Not only are harsh chemicals bad for the plants, they can also be harmful to insects and other wildlife that will visit your garden.

While some plants may be done blooming by fall, you can continue to help local wildlife. Leave seed heads and plant stalks in your garden. You’ll provide food and a habitat for birds and overwintering insects.

It may take a few cycles for some plants like milkweed to start producing flowers, but know that our local pollinators will thank you!


For places where you can purchase native plants, visit Ohio Native Plant Month’s website. You can find local retailers and garden clubs as well as places throughout Ohio.


Caroline Wiita
Content Marketing Coordinator

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