Growing for Market in partnership with Johnny's Selected Seeds has created a library of expert information about growing and selling vegetables and flowers. Links in the article will take you to

Subscribe to Growing for Market for more great ideas about growing and marketing!

For more topics in the series, click on Market Farming Basics in the left column.


Selected Seeds logoBanner

Attract Essential Pollinators To Your Garden

Insect pollination is essential to many vegetable and fruit crops, including tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries, blackberries, apples, almonds, and many others. In the case of watermelons, there will be no fruit without pollination. Some vegetables don't require pollination to set fruit, but pollination by bees will result in larger and more abundant fruits. Nearly 75% of the flowering plants on Earth rely on pollinators to set seed or fruit, as well as one-third of our food crops, and most pollination is performed by honey bees, native bees, and other insects. Try Johnny's Beneficial Insects Attractant Mix. See all of our varieties that are good for attracting beneficial insects.

Yet pollinators are at risk throughout North America. Beekeepers are losing commercial honeybees to colony collapse disorder. Several species of bumblebees are nearly extinct and many others are suffering severe declines. Other pollinating insects are similarly suffering from reduced habitat.

As farmers and gardeners, we are in a position to provide food and habitat for native pollinators. We have the land, tools, and know-how to create insectary plantings and wild areas where pollinators can take refuge. They, in turn, will provide more abundant food for us, and those same plantings will attract other beneficial insects for improved pest management.

Here are some guidelines for the kinds of plantings that will attract and nurture native pollinators, provided by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

  • Large natural areas with plenty of flowering plants should be located within a half-mile of vegetable crops, because that's the longest distance native pollinators will fly in search of food. In the absence of natural areas, you can plant a "bee pasture" with red clover to attract bumblebees.
  • Long, narrow strips along field edges or waterways, for example can be planted with flowering plants to attract pollinators even closer to crops.
  • Additional small plantings of flowers should be created throughout the gardens to bring the tiniest pollinators into close proximity with crops.
  • Plant numerous varieties of flowering plants that will bloom over the longest period possible to keep pollinators fed before and after the target crop blooms.
  • Choose plants that are native to your area first, but don't be afraid to add non-natives to the mix. Many herbs and cut flowers provide food and habitat for pollinators. The best varieties produce a lot of pollen (Autumn Beauty sunflower is a better choice than a pollen-less cultivar such as Pro Cut) and have single petals (Sensation Cosmos, for example, is better than the fluffy double petals of Double Click Cosmos).
  • In addition to plants, you can also provide nesting sites by leaving some untidy areas such as brush piles and old tree stumps.

The Xerces Society has numerous fact sheets about landscaping for pollinators, and has just published an excellent book, Attracting Native Pollinators, that covers pollination biology, identification, and conservation strategies.

Visit Johnny's Selected Seeds for more free information about growing produce, herbs, cover crops and flowers.

Subscribe to Growing for Market for the latest news and ideas.

Reprinted from JSS Advantage May 2011