Brian Minter: Plants to support important pollinators

Camellias are a great source of nectar and pollen.

Even with the world in turmoil, nature simply carries on providing the normal progression of colour and beauty.

As our birds return and we see hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators back in our gardens, we really need to support them by providing nectar- and pollen-producing plants that open in sequence all through the seasons.

Because much of their habitat has been lost mainly through development, I think it is vital to add more pollinator-attracting plants into our gardens, especially those that begin their blooming cycle early in the season.

In coastal areas, once the temperature hits 10 C, the bees are out, and depending on the species, they are searching for both nectar and pollen.

 Heathers are bee magnets.

Last week, I was trying to pick out a few winter-flowering heathers, and I was delighted to see them smothered with bees. Not only do heathers provide colour from late October until late April in zone 6 regions, but they also produce both nectar and pollen for our bees. If pollination of your early-flowering fruit trees and small fruits is a concern, planting these winter beauties is a great solution because they attract bees to your garden.

Winter-flowering camellias (C. sasanqua, zone 7) have also been in bloom since November, and they will continue flowering well into April.

I recently noticed that both bees and Anna’s hummingbirds were attracted to them, especially to the brighter coloured blooms. As the early-flowering Camellia japonicas begin to open, they, too, will be a great source of nectar and pollen.

 Camellias are a great source of nectar and pollen.

The soft pink blossoms of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’ (zone 6) have also been supplying winter colour since November, and will continue to do so until late April.  This remarkable plant may not be as much a bee attractor as other varieties, but it certainly still attracts some.

A very old variety of flowering cherry, Prunus ‘Autumnalis’ (zone 5), with its soft pink single blooms, puts out colour from November well into April.

Some brilliant folks with Vancouver Parks planted them on Nanaimo Street, just south of First Avenue, and what a treat they have been for the people who live in that area, and for pollinators.

Cornus mas is a unique dogwood that is, unfortunately, seldom seen in today’s gardens. It is blooming now with tiny yellow blossoms that look very much like witch hazel flowers.

Similar in size to Cornus florida, its early blossoms attract pollinators. Once fertilized, the blossoms turn into edible fruits that look like cherries. As an added bonus, its fall foliage colour is stunning.

Speaking of witch hazels, the hamamelis family (zone 6) is still in bloom, and the selection of varieties today is amazing from shades of yellow, orange and red to amethyst. I prefer the yellow varieties for their delightful perfume, and pollinators like them for their nectar.

 Hummingbirds love King Edward VII flowering currant.

The starting gun for hummingbird season is the red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’ (zone 6). Depending on winter temperatures, its long, drooping flowers will begin blooming later in April, and they are hummingbird magnets.

This variety is fairly shade tolerant, allowing for more versatility in planting sites. In colder areas, the native alpine currant Ribes alpinum is hardy to zone 2.  It’s a must have for anyone wanting to introduce more native plants into a garden.

Flowering quince are just about to open. Chaenomeles (zone 6), with their vibrant red, pink or white blooms, are particularly loved by pollinators.  I like to espalier them against a wall or fence for a spectacular look year-round, but especially so once the apple-like fruits form in summer.

Kerria japonica (zone 5), with their single or double yellow flowers are just budding up and will provide a vibrant April and May pop of colour.  They, too, are on the hot list for pollinator favourites.

As the seasons progress, many more flowering shrubs, perennials, annuals and trees will be producing both nectar and pollen, but it’s now, early in the year, when it is most important to have some of these plants in our gardens to help sustain emerging populations of pollinators.

As the blossoms of our small fruits and fruit trees begin to open, we will appreciate the role pollinators play and the hard work they do to provide us with fruit.

There are still mason bees available.  So, if you can, introduce them into your garden as well.

With many stores closed at this time, it may not be possible to get these amazing plants until later in the season, but consider finding a spot for them, both for their beauty and for their nectar and pollen.


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