When we see the first bit of green finally break through the earth or bud form on a tree outside our window, we know spring has indeed sprung. That’s when many of us start to think of our pollinator friends and what we can do to help them as our plants begin to grow and bloom.

A bee's butt sticks out of a purple flower his head is buried in to reach the pollen.
Pollinators have preferences when it comes to the plants they choose to pollinate, so splashing different colors is important to supporting them. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Courtney Sacco)

But what about the dog days of summer? Although the Texas climate may have gardens looking less than lovely by August, pollinators will still need us. With a little advance planning now, we can support pollinators through the sweltering months and into fall.

Some popular garden plants like roses are usually self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind, but most of the flowers you can buy at a nursery are going to attract and need pollinators. Around 80% of flowering plants need pollinators to reproduce, and over three-quarter of the staple crops that feed people and livestock do too.

Thinking locally is a great way to help pollinators. Using plants native to your region can add some extra help to support both native and other pollinators, and native plants will be better suited for the soil and climate. With any plant, planting a cluster of several of the same type will make it easier for pollinators to find them. A bonus to attracting pollinators is that your local wildflower populations may also increase.

Top tips for supporting pollinators from a Texas A&M AgriLife expert

Molly Keck, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management program specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology and serving Bexar County, offers some science-based advice to keep pollinators around and thriving during the hottest months.

  • Overlap blooms. Pollinators need flowers that bloom at different times of the year. An array of flower varieties that peak after others fade are ideal. Native and drought-tolerant species are also good additions to a garden or landscape. By planting from spring into fall, you can extend pollinators’ resources.
  • Be colorful. Plant flowers in a variety of colors since different pollinators are attracted to different colors. Keck said bumblebees are attracted to blues and purples, whereas other bees are more attracted to yellows or whites. She suggests adding some really bright colors like oranges and pinks to your garden to draw in butterflies. Red isn’t seen well by bees, so red flowers with a contrasting center are usually a better bet. If you plant colors, they will come.
A bee in the yellow center of a black and red flower getting pollen.
Red is not a color on its own that will draw in bees, but a red flower with some type of bulls-eye design in the center is appealing. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)
  • Add shapes and sizes. Pollinators’ flower preferences come in all shapes and sizes, so variety is also key. Some like deeper or more open bowls, since pollinators have preferences as to the way they collect pollen or feed on nectar. Be aware that some of the more modern hybrid flowers with “doubled” flowers — what looks like many petals or a flower within a flower — may lack the pollen, nectar and/or fragrance pollinators seek out. In pursuit of the best-looking bloom, some plant breeders have left out what pollinators need. In other words, avoid those that are all show but may lack substance.
  • Easy on the pesticide, please. Keck said many people mistakenly believe that if they don’t use pesticide, their plant won’t flower. She said if you feel you have to apply pesticide, do it in the evening when most of the pollinators have “gone to bed.” That will hopefully give the pesticide time to dry before morning. Never spray the inside of a flower. If a plant is flowering, it most likely doesn’t need help since it takes a tremendous amount of energy to bloom in the first place, which wouldn’t happen if it was stressed. Also make sure to read and follow the label and be aware of toxic ingredients.
  • Give them shelter. Providing pollinators with shelter is another way to support their numbers. Houses for bees and other pollinators can be purchased online, at home and garden stores or you can even make your own using tubes. And whereas honeybees group in hives, most insect pollinators are solitary dwellers and most bees actually live underground. Some pollinators, like mason bees, need mud to line their homes. Keeping a bit of mud near your garden is a helpful way to aid with their construction.

The bee’s knees

Bees are the “bee’s knees” among pollinators, Keck said.

“Bees are the best because they are actively going after the pollen,” Keck said. “Their body is really fuzzy, so they pick up a bunch of that pollen and then they accidentally drop it off as they bounce from flower to flower.”

When most people think of pollinators, and bees in general, they typically think of honeybees and maybe bumblebees, Keck said.

“But there’s actually a lot of different species of native bees that are great pollinators that we often overlook because they’re small or we just assume they are honeybees because of how they look,” she said.

Pollinators: Beyond bees

a dark winged butterfly with orange spots on a purple flower
While bees might be the most popular pollinator, butterflies are an important contributor to the process as well. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

Although bees may be the most efficient pollinators, plenty of other insects do their share of heavy lifting.

“Beyond bees, there are also butterflies and moths, flies, beetles and some wasps that are also good pollinators,” Keck said. “The sheer number of beetles makes them a substantial, but often overlooked, pollinator.”

In addition to insects, birds and bats can also be pollinators. Think about adding night-blooming flowers for nocturnal pollinators.

Supporting pollinators year-round

The majority of pollinators are most active in the spring and summer and then they start to slow things down in the fall. In fact, most insect pollinators, aside from honeybees, will die over the winter.

However, bees and other pollinators often lay eggs in hollow stalks of plants. If you typically cut these plants back or pull them up, find a corner of your garden or yard where you can leave them until next year.

Keck said those eggs pollinators lay and leave behind will hatch sometime between February and April, and the cycle will start all over again.

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