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How to feed pollinators in the early spring. The guide for Canadian gardeners.

How To Feed Pollinators In Spring

In early spring we tend to see bumblebees in our garden. These bumblebees arrive in spite of their being little to no flowers present. For a gardener this is a hard site to see. So the question asked is how do we feed pollinators in an early Canadian spring. 

This blog post look at:

  • Exactly what the purpose of pollinators is
  • How they affect our yard and garden
  • How to feed them in early spring
  • How to attract more of them to our yards 

The Purpose of Pollinators In Canada

Pollinators are important to our survival as humans. It is a known fact that pollinators are responsible for a vast majority of the fruits and vegetables that we consume. Without pollinators we will not have fruits and vegetables and therefore we will not be able to eat. Seems pretty straight forward doesn’t it. However they are much more important than just increasing yields. 

Because pollinators are accessing pollen from different sources. They are able to increase the genetic diversity in the seeds we find in fruits. This genetic diversity ultimately increases the likelihood of survival and future of that plant species. This diverse genetic code means better survival in adverse conditions.

Let’s look at a tomato for example. In the tomato itself there are a pile of seeds. If we were into seed saving or survival crops we would then harvest the seeds to use for next year. The seeds harvested would have a dynamic and diverse DNA code. This dynamic DNA sequence would be a result of open pollination.

The pollinators that travel several hundred yards to find food are bringing in pollen from different sources in the neighborhood. That means it is bringing in genetic material that may cause the seeds inside of each tomato to be more drought resistant, resistant to cold, more resistant to certain diseases and pass, the list goes on and on. 

What Happens When A Pollinator Brings Over Pollen?

When we’re looking at the process of pollination we have to look at the different parts of a plants flower. There are two different types of plants. The first type of plant is a monoecious plant, this refers to a plant that has a male flower and a female flower such as what we see in squash and cucumber. 

Plants with male and female flowers are completely reliant on pollinators to do the work for them. This is because the male and female flowers do not interact with one another therefore the pollen will not reach the female portion of the flower.

Plants Want Diversity For Survival

The second type of plant has a bisexual flower. This bisexual flower means that the flower contains both male and female parts. While these plants don’t absolutely need the pollinators. The plants themselves have in some cases designed themselves for the greatest chance of receiving external pollen. 

Bisexual plants have developed elaborate flowers to ensure the least amount of self pollinating can occur. This can include making the style of the flower taller or shorter than the anthers. Or having a very open flower where the anthers are flopping around such as a tiger lilly.

So when we think of pollinators as simply a resource for producing fruit we should also think about them as mini mad scientists. Because when pollinators mix and match pollen we end up with a diverse genetic pool. Ultimately resulting in different variations of the same plant in future generations.

Looking for a friendly backyard bee alternative?

Different Types Of Pollinators Include

  • Birds
  • Beetles
  • Bats
  • Moths
  • Butterflies 
  • Ants
  • Bees
  • Wind
  • Flys 
  • Wasps
  • Honey possums
  • Ruffled lemurs
  • Blue tailed gecko

How To Feed Pollinators All Summer Long?

Different pollinators have different start times. Some will appear after only a few weeks of warm temperatures where others wait until it is warm enough outdoors. 

The first and most obvious is providing plants that flower in the early time of spring. In a Canadian garden these plants would mostly include apple trees, cherry trees, lilac bushes and anything in that realm. If you were able to incorporate these fruit trees into your landscaping plan you will have flowers for pollinators early in the season.

Start Seeds Early & In Waves

However if fruit trees are too large for your plot then you may want to consider the use of flowers. The first and most obvious way to provide blooms early and spring is to plant our seeds earlier. This would be an early start of approximately one month or more.

It’s important to note that just because you start your seeds earlier does not necessarily mean the lifecycle of a plant will be extended. You should expect the plants to whittle away and look spindly sooner in the season. If you want it blooms all summer long it is highly advised that you plant in waves.

Planting in waves would allow you to enjoy blooms throughout the entire season. Wave planting could include starting seeds and then waiting two months before starting a second wave. Depending on how long your current season is or what zone you’re in you may want to plant three waves.

Buy Flowering Plants

If you don’t have the time or room to start seeds in waves you may want to consider visiting a local greenhouse. When at the greenhouse choose the plants that currently already have flowers so you’re able to provide blooms earlier in the year. Keep in mind however that if the plant is blooming in the greenhouse already it again will have a shorter lifespan towards the end of the season.

leaf cutter bees
leaf cutter bees

This means you should expect to repot your pots or flower beds midseason to ensure a beautiful landscape yard. For those of us that love gardening this may be ideal. However if you are not into re-planting the entire yard mid season there is another solution.

Because pollinators are purely after the sugar within the flower we can actually provide them that ingredient through fruit. Using something brightly coloured such as an orange will attract the pollinators to the fruit for some food. This is commonly seen with butterflies.

All you need to do is cut a fruit in half and lay it so that the soft flesh is exposed. Ensure you change out that fruit once it begins to dry out. Overall you will be feeding your beloved pollinators long before the flowers are present.

Specific Colours That Attract Pollinators 

So we know how to feed our pollinators early in the season, and we even know the reasoning behind why pollinators are important to our garden. But how do you attract pollinators to your yard if you don’t have a ton of flowers?

This may be the case for some folks that are purely growing vegetables for eating. Without the floral colours of flowers you may not be attracting as many pollinators as you want. This is why we use colours to bring the pollinators in and allow them to feed on our vegetable flowers.

This method can work great for someone that is in a container garden, a balcony garden, or someone with a small yard. The colours you want to include to attract pollinators are yellow, purple, white, red, and blue. It’s important to note that pollinators enjoy clusters of flowers over one solid flower. 

This means to capitalize on the use of colours to attract pollinators you may want to consider smaller coloured rocks piled up in one area. The reason for this is that pollinators are lazy and if they are able to capitalize on a grouping of flowers they will be much happier. 

Adding Pollinators To Your Backyard

The last method of increasing the amount of pollinators in your backyard garden would include simply introducing the pollinators themselves. Now while this statement may seem daunting it does not have to be. I do agree that keeping honey bees for example in our backyard is a labour-intensive hobby. Something I personally would not enjoy being involved with. 

However there are alternatives that are much less labour-intensive and much more enjoyable. Some of these alternatives would include the leaf cutter bees. Leaf cutter bees are solitary bees that are child friendly and pet friendly but are also considered super pollinators.

What a super pollinator means is you will have higher yield in your garden. This is due to special hairs located on the bees body. I won’t go into too much more detail with this as I do you have a blog post and a YouTube video talking about it.

There you have it Canadian gardeners this is the plan for your spring pollinator feeding. This is also a great way to increase the number upon metres in a Canadian garden. Let me know in the comments down below what methods you have used to increase the pollinators in your backyard.

Gardening In Canada