Spice up your pollinator garden

Who doesn’t love festooning a homemade pizza with just-picked basil? Or muddling fresh mint into a glass of tea? If you’re like me, you cherish your herb garden. What’s more, these culinary caches, big or small, can serve more than the chef. They can double as a dinner table for visiting pollinators, too! Many herbs provide nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Support your local bees, butterflies and moths by adding these six herbs to your garden or patio

  1. Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

A fast-growing plant that adds a touch of delicacy and height to flowerbeds. This perennial herb produces yellow flowers and grows up to 5 feet tall. Avoid planting fennel next to dill, caraway, or coriander (included on this list below) as it can cross-pollinate, likely reducing its seed production. Plant in full sunlight.

Attracts : Black and Anise Swallowtails for both nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Use it in the kitchen: Fennel’s anise flavor works well in both savory and sweet recipes. A popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, add the feathery fronds to salads and soups for a delicate flavor.

2. Caraway  Carum carvi 

This biennial herb can grow up to two feet tall. Enjoy its carrot-like foliage during the first growing season. Clusters of tiny white and pinkish flowers resembling Queen Anne’s lace appear in its second year which will attract a number of pollinators. All parts of the caraway herb are edible, and seeds can be harvested once flowers fade in the fall. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Yellow sulphurs and metalmark butterflies enjoy the nectar. Black swallowtails use caraway as a host plant.  

Use it in the kitchen: Add caraway seed to soups and stews for an earthy flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper.  

3. Cumin  Cuminum cyminum 

Dainty white flowers attract small butterflies from this low growing plant. Reaching a height around 15 inches, cumin’s slender branches resemble many of the other herbs listed below. A member of the parsley family, cumin requires the same growing requirements as carrots, cilantro and parsley. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Blues, hairstreaks, sulphurs and many other small to medium-sized butterflies. 

Use it in the kitchen: A key ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. An intensely warm, earthy, and also sweet flavor perfect for both savory and dessert dishes. 

4. Anise  Pimpinella anisum 

Anise is a low spreading, bright green bush herb that grows about two feet tall and wide. These feathery plants add an airy presence in the garden and are blanketed in snowy white clusters. Both seeds and leaves are edible. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Swallowtails, including the two-tailed and pipevine. Black and anise swallowtails use as a host plant. 

Use it in the kitchen: Reminiscent of licorice, add anise seeds to breads, cookies, and candy. Leaves make a garnish or crush the leaves and add to any number of recipes. 

5. Dill  Anethum graveolens 

Add contrast and color to your flowerbed with dill. Although delicate looking, dill is a fairly hardy annual that grows quickly and produces showy yellow flowers. This annual herb can grow as tall as five feet and as wide as three feet. Plant in full sun or a location that receives just a bit of afternoon shade during our intense summer days.  

Attracts: Anglewings, tortoiseshells and sulphurs. Host plant to black swallowtails.  

Use it in the kitchen: Dill’s flavor is a cross between celery and fennel. Commonly used in the pickling process, it can also be used to season a variety of dishes like potatoes, bread, fish, and lamb. You can harvest both the seeds and leaves for cooking. 

6. Coriander  Coriandrum sativum 

Get two herbs for the price of one! Coriander are the seeds from a cilantro plant. Allow your cilantro plant to flower and you’ll soon have clusters of delicate white, pinkish or pale lavender flowers. This annual herb can reach a height of two feet. Plant in part shade as it’s delicate leaves can be scorched by direct sunlight.  

Attracts: Small to medium-sized butterflies like sulphurs, metalmarks, blues and hairstreaks. 

Use it in the kitchen: Fresh cilantro is often present in Mexican dishes, but pairs well with many recipes. Remove leaves and add to casseroles, sandwiches, and sauces. Coriander seeds are a great addition to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Collect seeds for cooking or to plant more cilantro. 

These plants will make an irresistible herb garden, for you and the pollinators. Just be sure to plant enough; three or more of each plant is recommended. Be careful not to over harvest and don’t be alarmed when you find some midnight snacking has occurred. After all, that’s one of the reasons you planted these beauties. Your herbs will grow back (they’ve evolved to deal with bug predation) and you’ll soon be rewarded with wonderful butterflies and a healthier environment.  

Last, but certainly not least, for the health of pollinators and your family, avoid applying chemicals to your herbs. In fact, forgo pesticides and herbicides throughout your landscape; it’s one of the most important steps you can take to protect all those good bugs out there. Want to learn more about natural pest control? Check out this recent Environmental Services blog.  

If you’re looking for more ways to attract pollinators to your garden, check out the Plant for Pollinators website or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department – email below. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Home Pollinator Gardening Class

If you weren’t able to join us for a Pollinator Garden Class at Woodlands Landscaping Solutions last month, don’t worry! Lauren Simpson, area pollinator gardening expert, is coming back this month and is offering a deep dive into how she transformed her own yard into a beautiful space for pollinators. 

Lauren is passionate about educating on pollinators, their conservation and the urban wildscapes that support them. Her own pollinator garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a Monarch Waystation, and a Certified Butterfly Garden. Lauren has observed 48 species of butterfly, 20 species of syrphid fly and around 30 species each of bees and wasps within her home garden. 

Through the success of her garden, Lauren helped create the St. Julian’s Crossing – wildlife habitat, and has received much recognition around the Houston area for her efforts in pollinator conservation. For more information and to see Lauren’s home garden, check out the St. Julian’s Crossing Facebook page.

Register online here. Registration is required. For a complete list of upcoming Environmental Services programs, check out our calendar of events here.

Plant for pollinators this spring!

At first glance, a pollinator garden may look like any other pretty flower garden. But for a garden to be a haven for native bees, butterflies, and moths, it needs to meet their needs for all life stages. And the most important ingredient are plants rich in nectar and pollen to feed adult pollinators and host plants specific to butterfly species. Here are simple guidelines for creating a pollinator garden that will reward you with three seasons of garden visitors and help protect these vulnerable insects.

Choose a sunny spot.

Most blooming plants require sun. Four hours of sun is ideal, but a minimum of two to three hours will work too. Some great nectar and pollen plants thrive in part shade (two hours of sun with dappled shade the rest of the day).

Plant natives.

Native plants support more than 29 times the number of insect species than non-native plants. Aim for at least 70% of native plants in your garden. (Print the PDF for recommended plant list.)

Plant host plants.

Host plants are where the female butterfly will lay her eggs and her young caterpillars will feed. Some butterfly species—like the monarch and some swallowtails—only have one host plant. It is vital, therefore, to include some of these plants to support these species. Most of our host plants are native, but some are non-natives well adapted to our area. By including these host plants, you’ll welcome more diversity into your garden. (Print the PDF at the bottom for recommended plant list.)

Plant variety.

Adult bees and butterflies like some variety in their diet, just like us. By including different varieties of plants, your garden will attract a diverse assortment of pollinators.

Plant for three seasons.

Pollinators that overwinter in our area start emerging as the weather warms, and that could be late February to early March. As the weather turns cool, bees and butterflies go into hiding. As a general rule, they can’t fly when temperatures fall to 55 degrees. Bumblebees and some solitary bees will hibernate underground; other solitary bees will hibernate in nests they create in rock crevices and dead wood tunnels . Honey bees don’t hibernate, but buzz all winter keeping the hive warm—only the queen hibernates.  The monarch butterfly is the only migrating butterfly in North America and usually leaves its overwintering site in central Mexico in March, returning in November. You can track their migration each season at journeynorth.org.

With pollinators active and needing food spring through fall, it’s important that your garden provide blooms each season. (Print the PDF at the bottom for recommended plant list.)

Plant in dense color blocks.

Avoid planting different plant varieties singly. Go bold! Group a minimum of five to seven of the same plant to create large swaths of color in your garden. This helps pollinators find them. A dense planting has another advantage. When host plants especially, are planted densely, the young caterpillars have a better chance of survival by hiding from predators.

Include a puddle.

If there’s a low area that holds water after a rain in or near your pollinator garden, leave it! These “puddling” areas are great for providing certain butterfly species (like male common buckeyes) with necessary minerals and nutrients. You can create your own puddle by filling a shallow pan or plate with soil, some rocks, and pieces of a kitchen sponge and keeping it wet.

puddler
A simple butterfly “puddler” is easy to add to a garden.

Provide shelter.

Shelter can take various forms, from a nearby fence or trellis, dense shrubbery, or a man-made bee house for solitary bees. It can also be as simple as leaving a pile of fallen leaves and pine needles in a nearby spot. Shelter provides safe places for caterpillars to pupate, and for overwintering pollinators.

Use no pesticides.

In your garden or near it. Period.

 Print a PDF of these tips and recommended plants.

Register your garden!

Register your pollinator garden with The Woodlands Township as part of the Plant for Pollinators program and receive a window cling for recognition and appreciation.

window cling.FINAL

Learn more about registering your pollinator garden.

Important note about tropical milkweed

If you already have tropical milkweed in your garden, be sure to cut it to four to six inches of the ground every October to prevent the spread of OE and interference with normal migratory behavior. Consider planting native varieties of milkweed. Learn more about OE and tropical milkweed, and native milkweed species for our area in our recent blog post.