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All Things Garden,  Monarchs,  Wildlife

10 Ways to Help Pollinators: Save Bees, Butterflies & Beyond

Did you know that June is National Pollinator Month here in the US? While I believe we should always have pollinators in our minds and hearts, June is an excellent time to dig in and give pollinators some extra love. The purpose of pollinator month is to spread awareness about the plight of pollinators, and encourage folks to take action to help support their declining populations. Thank you for your interest in this mission!

Read along to learn 10 ways to help save pollinators, including things you can do at home, in your community, and beyond! Most of the ways we can help pollinators seem small and easy to do – but can add up to make a big difference! Pollinator populations are impacted by human lives and our daily decisions in more ways than most people realize. Furthermore, human lives depend on pollinators far more than we give them credit for! Pollinators are a critical part of our food systems, environment, and economy. 


“Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse.”

Pollinators.org


Before we dive into 10 ways to help save pollinators, let’s quickly get acquainted with exactly who pollinators are, and why they need our help!


A close up image of a fava bean flower that has a honey bee latched onto it collecting pollen. The flower is white with purplish veins.
A honeybee sipping on fava bean flowers in our garden.


Who are Pollinators?


When you hear the word “pollinators”, most folks immediately think of bees – and for a good reason! Bees are one of the most prominent and important pollinators of them all. As bees buzz from flower to flower, they pick up and carry pollen. Thousands of plants depend on this transfer of pollen between flowers (aka, the act of pollination) to reproduce and bear fruit or seeds, including most food crops. However, many other insects and animals play a role in pollination too! This includes butterflies, moths, birds, bats, ants, beetles, other animals, and even the wind. Humans could be dubbed pollinators at times, such as when assisting with hand-pollination (like we do with our squash flowers). However, the term is usually reserved for those that perform it naturally in the wild.

Pollinators are considered a keystone species group. The National Geographic Society describes a keystone species as “a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.” In fact, pollinators are directly responsible for one-third of all food that humans consume, including everything from fruit and veggies to coffee and chocolate – some of my very favorite things!


A birds eye view of a freshly picked harvest. Vegetables, flowers, and herbs are laid out in a varied and artistic manner. There is avocados, chard, kale, apples, squash, tomatoes, basil, sage, rosemary, calendula flowers, garlic, mulberries, and various other edibles. They combine to make a cacophony of colors.
A recent homestead harvest. One third of the world’s food supply depends on pollination from bees! Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have avocados, apples, squash, and more.


Why are pollinators dying?


As our natural world becomes increasingly urbanized and polluted, pollinators are taking a big hit along with it. Bees are especially sensitive creatures and are very, very susceptible to the pesticides commonly used in conventional agriculture operations. The most lethal of them all (to bees) are neonicotinoids, which according to Cornell University are also the most widely used class of insecticides used in the world. One small exposure can take out an entire colony of bees. However, any broad-spectrum pesticide use puts pollinators at risk, including outside of a commercial farm setting! This includes residential use, at parks, on golf courses, on public right-of-ways, and more. 

Furthermore, natural habitats and food sources for pollinators are being altered, destroyed, or contaminated by expanding agriculture and “urban sprawl” development. Last but not least, our changing climate and weather patterns are negatively impacting many plants, animals, and ecosystems, including our pollinator friends.

Yikes. That all sounds pretty depressing, right? It certainly is… Yet the good news is: WE CAN HELP! Even more, most of the ways we can help save pollinators also benefit our personal wellness and the overall environment too. Consider it a “win” for all.


A close up image of a blooming apple flower that is white with shades of pink. Its stigma and stamen from the inside of the flower are open to the world outside and a honeybee is sitting on the flower collecting pollen. Its hind legs have a ball of pollen attached to it which it has collected. Flowers of many types can help save pollinators.
A honeybee pollinating our apple blossoms. Look at that pollen sac!


10 WAYS TO HELP SAVE POLLINATORS


1) Plant for Pollinators 


One of the best ways to help struggling pollinator populations is to create a pollinator-friendly garden, incorporating plants that provide nectar and pollen. Give preference to plants that are native to your area, which are best suited to both your climate and the pollinators that live there! Blooming trees are also highly attractive to pollinators. Even if you don’t have an extensive garden or large outdoor space, consider adding a few potted flowering plants to a balcony, patio, or window planter box. Many of the best plants for pollinators are low-maintenance and container-friendly!

Aim to supply diverse and sustained food sources by planting a variety of annual and perennial plants, including ones that flower at different times of the year. Also, keep in mind that most (but not all) flowers produce pollen or nectar, which is what pollinators need to sustain life. Need ideas on what kind of flowers to plant? Check out our Top 23 Plants for Pollinators article, or our 7 Easy Companion Flowers to Grow From Seed list. Both articles discuss the characteristics of each plant, including zone suitability, general care tips, and our favorite varieties.

In our garden, the lavender, salvia, verbena, zinnia, borage and flowering herbs are always buzzing with the most bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies! 


A large Monarch butterfly is featured sitting atop a red zinnia flower. The butterfly is colored a striking orange with black veins and edges that are accented by whitish dots that are dooten along its border. The background is slightly out of focus and shows a beautiful green garden with many flowering plants and vegetables.
A monarch butterfly perched atop a zinnia flower.


2) Create a Wildlife-Friendly Yard, Beyond Flowers


While flowers are essential, pollinators need other key elements to thrive! Do your best to provide habitat and supplemental food sources that support a variety of pollinators and wildlife. For example, add hummingbird feeders, bird houses, bird baths, solitary bee houses, or even bat boxes to your outdoor space. Put out shallow water baths for bees, such as a bird bath or shallow dish with stones or rocks in it. Allow some areas of your yard to grow “wild” and less manicured, which provides safe spots for nesting and shelter. Be conscientious when pruning vines and trees, especially during known bird nesting seasons. Let some of the wild “weeds” in your yard stay to bloom, such as dandelion. Also, avoid dead-heading all your spent flowers. The birds will appreciate eating the seeds!

Shelter, food, water, and places to raise young are all key components of a healthy wildlife habitat. Did you know that a schoolyard, workplace, or residential garden can actually become a Certified Wildlife Habitat? Our property is certified! Check out this article to learn more about how to join us. If you’re interested in hanging a hummingbird feeder, see our simple hummingbird nectar recipe and feeder best practices here

A hand is holding a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat plaque. Beyond the plaque is a front yard garden that is full of flowering plants of may varieties and colors, vegetables, vines, shrubs, trees, and cacti. A greenish blue house is located beyond. A yard such as this will help save pollinators.
Our modest beach town property is a Certified Wildlife Habitat! This plaque welcomes visitors as they enter the front yard garden (shown here)
An image of a hanging hummingbird feeder with a Rufous hummingbird suspended in air next to it, its wings only a blur in the image. The bird is copper orange in color with a white breast.
A happy Rufous hummingbird visiting our feeder (and the flowers in the yard)!



3) Avoid Using Pesticides


Help save pollinators by avoiding the use of chemical pesticides at home. Instead, manage your yard or garden in a natural and organic manner. There are many ways to combat pests in a way that will not negatively impact beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. In fact, beneficial insects themselves can be used to reduce pest insect populations! For example, native American ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantis eat many soft-bodied pest insects like aphids. Releasing them in your garden is considered a form of biological pest control – as opposed to chemical. The use of companion plants, polyculture, and physical barriers (like hoops and row covers) are other non-chemical means to reduce pests.

There are also many homemade or mild sprays that can be used to control garden pests, such as this DIY soap spray recipe or dilute neem oil. Even then, many “organic” pesticide products can harm bees and beneficial insects if applied incorrectly. Therefore, please do thorough research before using any kind of spray! Check out this article to learn about 25 different organic ways to manage garden pests.


Five raised garden beds are shown sitting amongst a sea of flowering plants for pollinators such as calendula, zinnia, marigold, lavender, and salvia. Three of the garden beds are affixed with hoops and row covers which are protecting the young plants beneath from pests.
Using hoops and floating row covers to protect crops is one of the dozens of ways to fight pests without chemical pesticides – and can also be utilized for shade and frost protection too!


4) Go Organic


Beyond your garden, go organic in as many ways possible – such as buying organic products and food. Supporting sustainable, pollinator-friendly farms keeps them in business – and the bees safe! Don’t forget to hit up your local Farmer’s Market too. Even if they are not “certified” organic, many small local farms are much more cautious about pesticide use. Furthermore, buying organic goods lessens the demand for conventional (toxic) products. This is better for everyone and everything, including your personal health. Even your choice in cotton balls, clothing, personal care products, and garden seeds has a trickle-down effect to pollinators. 


A shelf of a grocery store is shown with a sign the reads "ORGANIC" is featured, affixed to the grocery store shelf.
From groceries to shampoo, think about what kinds of pesticides were used to create the products and food that you buy – and put in or on your body! Photo from Adobe Stock.


5) Plant Butterfly Host Plants


Butterflies depend on “host plants” to reproduce and thus survive. Adult butterflies lay their eggs on a host plant, and when their larvae (caterpillars) emerge from eggs, they feed on the plant – until they too can grow up to become a beautiful butterfly. However, caterpillars won’t eat any old plant! Each species of butterfly has a particular host plant that their caterpillar babies will eat. Some caterpillars are very picky and will feed on one type of plant only, while others have a slightly wider appetite.

For example, milkweed is the sole source of food for monarch butterfly caterpillars. While there are many varieties of milkweed that they’ll eat, monarchs will ONLY eat milkweed. Gulf fritillary populations depend on passion flower vines. On the other hand, Swallowtail butterflies are less picky and will dine on dill, fennel, carrot greens, and parsley. So, plant extra and plan to share! 

Visit American Meadows for a more complete list of butterfly host plants, including trees, shrubs, and flowers. Or, see our article all about raising monarch butterflies if that strikes your fancy!


A close up image of the top of a flowering tropical milkweed plant that has yellow flowers. There is a huge Monarch Caterpillar that is feeding on a portion of the plant, the Caterpillar is striking in color with black, white, and yellow stripes.
A hungry monarch caterpillar feeding on a milkweed plant in our front yard garden.


6) Make an Impact Outside Your Home


There are a number of ways to help save pollinators beyond the borders of your own garden. If you live in an HOA, apartment complex, or other maintained community, talk to the folks responsible for landscape management about pollinators, pesticide use, and organic gardening options. Ask questions and share information at your workplace too. Perhaps they’ll be willing to make some beneficial changes! Even the time of day that sprays are applied can help save pollinators; bees are far less active in the evening hours, at sunset or after.


7) Support Beekeepers 


Supporting beekeepers is an excellent way to help encourage healthy pollinator populations. How? Buy local honey and beeswax products! Just like going organic, it is all about supply and demand. Consuming local honey also has the added benefit of inoculating your immune system with local pollen, which over time helps reduce your seasonal allergy response. Most often, local honey is sold at local farmers markets along with small shops, or direct from the keeper. Even when I can’t find local beeswax, I always choose natural beeswax candles over classic petroleum-based candles (yuck!) or even soy candles, since soy is a very pesticide-heavy crop. 


A woman is shown in her bee veil leaning against an open bee box. There are three various sized bottles of honey sitting atop the boxes next to her. Support your local beekeeper by purchasing local honey which can help save pollinators.
My beautiful friend Kati (@theurbanladybug on Insta) – a hobby beekeeper in Central California.


8) Start Keeping Bees Yourself


Now, I realize this option isn’t for everyone. Nor will I pretend to be an expert on this subject myself! While our garden is filled with hundreds of visiting bees each day, we have yet to venture into the wonderful world of beekeeping. It is a dream for our future farm property though. I have heard that Flow Hives are very simple to get going and maintain. To learn more, consider checking out the highly-rated Beekeeper’s Bible Book or Beekeeping for Dummies. If you know of any other great beginner beekeeping resources, please drop them in the comments below!


Three bee boxes are shown sitting on top of pallets in the middle of a field. Two of the boxes have roofs that are reminiscent of a house while the other roof is flat. Beekeepers help save pollinators by giving bees a safe place to call home.
My friend Kati’s (@theurbanladybug) flow hive bee boxes.


9) Donate


If it is within your means, donating to relevant non-profits is an awesome option to help save pollinators – especially if you don’t have a yard space to put the other tips we’ve explored to work. Or, in addition to! Here at Homestead and Chill, we donate a portion of the proceeds from our shop items (organic sourdough starter and organic t-shirts) to wildlife and pollinator non-profits each year.

Listed below are a handful of non-profit organizations that are dedicated to helping protect pollinators and their natural habitats – though the list is by no means comprehensive!


10) Spread the Love


Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers about the importance of pollinators! Encourage them to get involved and make small but impactful changes too. Give pollinators and wildlife-friendly gifts for special occasions, such as packets of wildflower seeds, local honey, bird houses, or hummingbird feeders. Last but not least, share this article and other pro-pollinator messages on social media!


Vertical spears of purple agastache flowers are shown, two of which have three Monarch butterflies latched onto them, drinking the nectar within. the flowers. Help save pollinators by planting nectar and pollen producing plants.


And that sums up 10 simple but meaningful ways you can personally help save pollinators!


I hope this article provided insight and inspiration on a few changes or new steps you can take to protect pollinators in your area. Every little bit counts. You know what they say… think globally, act locally! Please feel free to ask questions, or chime in with other ways to make a difference in the comments below. Thank you for tuning in and spreading the word! Last but not certainly not least, the pollinators thank you for your efforts too.

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One Comment

  • @TheUrbanLadyBug

    Thank you so much for featuring me in this article Deanna! As always, it’s so well written, so informative, and so beautifully captured!! It was a true honor to be included!!! Love you!!

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