Planting a pollinator garden

A fun project for the whole family

One out of every three bites of our food, including fruits, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, nuts and spices, is created with the help of pollinators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pollinators include not just bees, but birds, beetles, butterflies, moths, bats and more, and are an important piece of food creation around the world.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that dwindling habitats, diseases, parasites and environmental contaminants have contributed significantly to a drop in pollinator species across the world. Illinois' state insect, the monarch butterfly, has seen its population drop from one billion to only 34 million in the past 25 years. This spring, consider installing a small pollinator patch, sometimes called a butterfly garden, for the sake of the monarchs and more.

According to Patty Brockmeyer, owner of Designer Landscapes in Farmersville, some perennial flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators include aster, sedum, false sunflower, Joe Pye weed and swamp milkweed. Joe Pye weed and swamp milkweed both boast a vanilla scent that butterflies and hummingbirds find irresistible.

Butterfly weed is another popular perennial pollinator, and its tangerine orange blooms are favored by monarch butterflies. Annual flowers that attract butterflies and bees are numerous and include zinnias, lantana, petunias, cosmos and marigolds. Brockmeyer also recommends herbs such as dill and parsley for inviting pollinators to your garden.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the requirements for a successful butterfly garden include six or more hours of sunshine per day, a flat or slightly sloped location that is protected from wind and loose, well-drained soil. Once native plants have grown into their space, they need very little watering. As far as arranging your plants, pollinators prefer you to plant in clumps, rather than in rows or spread out. This is because butterflies and other pollinators are most attracted to concentrated color and scent.

If you don't have much space to install a garden, containers work wonderfully for this sort of project. Choose containers of varying heights to add visual interest and to allow different plants to grow into their spaces. Larger containers will allow your plants to grow larger root systems and prevent potting soil from drying out quickly. Be sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of your containers so that your plants' roots don't rot.

While you are dreaming up your garden, invite the entire family to help out. The proven benefits of gardening with children include healthier eating, boosted confidence, increased planning and analytical abilities, lowered stress and improved mood. Gardening with children also allows your kids the time and space to consider and ask questions about everything from the water cycle to the cycle of life. Allowing kids to get their hands dirty will help instill in them a love of nature and the outdoors that will last a lifetime.

Brockmeyer's tips for planting a butterfly garden with young children are to teach a respect for nature and make it fun. Bring your children along to choose plants or seeds, and involve your kids in planting, watering and fertilizing their sprouts. Get your children involved in painting rocks or building birdhouses to decorate your garden space. And as for the bees your garden will undoubtedly attract, Brockmeyer recommends simply teaching your children to respect them, to never pick them up or swat at them, and to enlighten kids on the usefulness of bees for our environment.

Pamela Savage is a freelance writer in Springfield. She and her family planted a colorful butterfly garden last summer. It ultimately died, but she is looking forward to trying again.

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