Pollinator Gardens: Supporting CT Grown From Home

April 4, 2024

When people commit to supporting CT Grown farmers, they usually do so by purchasing more locally grown foods — signing up for a CSA, shopping at a farmers’ market, or even just looking for food from Connecticut farms at the grocery store.

There’s also a way to directly support CT Grown agriculture, right from your own home: establishing a pollinator garden. Taking this action not only supports Connecticut’s floriculture sector, but also benefits the animal pollinators that are crucial for the state’s produce farmers.

The importance of pollinators

Pollination, or the transfer of pollen grains between the male and female parts of a flower, is necessary for the fertilization of many plants. Once this process occurs, the plant will be able to develop fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

Some plants are able to use wind-borne pollination or self-pollination, but the most—including the majority of CT Grown crops—rely on animal pollinators. Since animals directly seek flowers for their nectar, they provide a reliable and productive way of pollination. Animal pollination also helps create a more diverse plant population and higher crop yields.

Bees are an important pollinator, and there are more than 300 native bee species in Connecticut that help to create vibrant local agriculture. Other important pollinators include butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and certain species of flies, beetles, and wasps.

Pollinator-friendly plants

Animal pollinators are facing numerous challenges, with factors such as development, deforestation, and invasive plants threatening their habitats. When you establish a pollinator garden at your home, you help to create a space that can support them. The more pollinator gardens that are established, the easier it is for animal pollinators to find the resources necessary for them to thrive.

Flowers that are well-suited for attracting pollinators in Connecticut include:

  • Bee balm: This plant doesn’t just attract bees, but butterflies and hummingbirds as well! It comes in a variety of colors, including vibrant shades of red, pink, or purple.
  • Buttonbush: Well-suited for wetter conditions, buttonbush produces unique globe-like flowers.
  • Columbine: With their long, spurred shape, columbine flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds. 
  • Geranium: A shade-tolerant perennial that commonly comes in purple and magenta.
  • Goldenrod: A late season bloomer that produces bright yellow flowers. 
  • Highbush blueberry: White flowers attract pollinators in the spring, and yield tasty fruit in the summer! 
  • New England aster: Produces showy summer flowers in pink, purple, and white.
  • New Jersey tea: A drought-tolerant plant that produces white flowers in mid-summer.
  • Swamp milkweed: A native wildflower beloved by monarch butterflies.

Several vegetable plants also have flowers that attract pollinators. These include squash varieties, which produce large yellow flowers; bean varieties, which have white or purple flowers; and edible flowers such as borage or sunflowers.

Best practices for pollinator gardens

  • Don’t worry about size: A four-by-four foot plot works well as a pollinator garden, and you can always expand it later. You can also simply update an existing flower or vegetable garden, or create a series of small garden patches using methods like containers or window boxes.
  • Use a range of plants: For the best results, use a diverse mix of at least three to five plants that bloom at different times of the year. This strategy provides a consistent source of nectar and pollen from early spring through late fall.
  • Find companion pairings: Some flowers will help support your vegetable garden by attracting pollinators, and may even help repel pests. Some good pairings include borage and tomatoes, nasturtiums and squash, and basil and peppers.
  • Use native plants: Native plants are already adapted to local soil and climate conditions, so they require less maintenance.
  • Remove invasive plants: Invasive plants can crowd out native plants that pollinators rely on for sustenance; remove them to help native plants thrive.
  • Create simple habitats: Features such as hollow logs, patches of bare earth, bee houses, and a shallow birdbath help sustain pollinators and provide them with shelter.
  • Avoid pesticides or herbicides: Pesticides and herbicides can kill pollinators or impede their reproductive or navigational abilities. Use natural products to minimize these harmful effects.

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