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Protecting the Pollinators

‘At their roots, all things hold hands. When a tree falls down in the forest a star falls down from the sky. ‘ The Lacandon people of Mexico

I think everyone understands, by now, that all our actions have connectivity. This is the glue of Nature. All ecosystems connect and react between themselves and impact and ripple to large and global systems. Nothing is stand alone.

Even some of our tiniest creatures, insects, have massive effect – as we are beginning to see and understand. Our way of life is being threatened. Abundant food and variety is being jeopardized. Our natural environment is being jeopardized. When you look onto a forest, imagine 50% of the trees, shrubs and flowers gone. Only the wind pollinated are left.

It is never just about waiting for government to legislate change – it is about each and every one of us enacting a change. A change for the good. So let’s roll up our sleeves and take a good, hard look at what can be done to save our pollinators.

Most of my information sources are Yale, Cornell, Harvard and graduate papers. Think tanks give us fresh, new ideas. So I’ve combed many sites and resources to evaluate our progress and to offer more information and ideas.

Bumble Bee

There are 1,000 species of pollinating animals in Canada. These include bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, bats and birds. Since 2006, we have had substantial decreases in these populations. At an Ontario level, the government has initiated the Pollinator Health Action Plan. The plan extends to beekeepers, farmers and gardeners. I’ll discuss honey bees in a later article. I really want to focus on what you can do as a gardener for local, native bees and pollinators.


Aim for a succession of blooms from early spring until fall. Great websites for selection of pollinator flowers are Xerces Society : Pollinator plants for the Great Lake region and Pollination Canada which has a season by season listing of bee friendly plants.

Wild Flower Meadow

Stay true to the species of flower. Keep away from hybridized and double varieties since they have very little food value for our pollinators. Also, how you arrange these flowers is important. Do not plant flowers singly but, rather, in large clumps. And lastly, do not forget the larval plants. Make sure these larval plants are in sunny, sheltered spots to optimize caterpillar health.


If you must spray there are many home made recipes available.


Mud and mud puddles are essential for pollinators. Mud is needed by some bees to create their nests. Male butterflies will ‘ puddle ‘ in order to absorb needed minerals from mud puddles.


Here is where we need to review our current ideas. We need to rethink bee motels and bee bundles. Coming from a very current masters paper, it is concluded that we are placing too much emphasis on block nests and hollow tubes. The reality is that 70% of wild bees nest in the ground and only 30% nest in cavities and stems. Your shelters should reflect these ratios.

Here are some good suggestions:

  1. Reduce or eliminate use of landscape fabric. This will allow bees access to the ground.
  2. Mulch – too much mulch will interfere with access to the ground for bees.
  3. Create small gravel and rock piles in sunny locations.
  4. Create brush piles – Broken branches and rotting logs – Hugely important for hibernating creatures such as swallowtail chrysalis that will attach themselves to sticks to overwinter. Leaf cutter and mason bees make home in tunnels and shiny green bees love nesting in rotting logs or larger branches.
  5. Loose leaves – Stop burning loose leaves! Create piles of loose leaves but also broadcast these leaves 2 inches thick over your gardens. Adding leaf litter creates an extra layer of protection beneath the snow for all creatures hibernating.

    ‘ Bare soil is like an open wound on the skin of the Earth, and mulch serves as a bandage to help it heal. ‘
  6. Pithy stems – Do not remove pithy stems from your gardens. This is fatal for bees that might be nesting in these stems.


Bee hotels

Bee hotels were meant to act as a breeding site for native bees so native bees could pollinate native plants BUT introduced bees represented over 50% of all bees reared and are pollinators of introduced or alien plants. In fact, native bees performed poorly. Out of all the occupants only 28% were native bees. Native wasps were more abundant and out competed native bees.

Bee motels also acted as sinks for parasites and disease because of unnaturally high nest densities and arrangement of nesting site entrances. Bee hotels may be designed to encourage different bee species by varying nesting tube width or length, but encouraging different bee species to cohabit might increase the opportunity for disease and parasites.


Join a group or participate in a citizen science program such as Bumble Bee Watch. Encourage your neighbors and friends to become pollinator friendly.

Once you start gardening with friendly intent you will be truly amazed at what will visit your garden. Enjoy these visitors and share your joy with everyone. We are all in this together.

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