By Olivia Watts 29th May 2024

With longer days and warmer weather, gardeners find themselves busier than ever. Seeds are sown, and plants are nurtured, all in anticipation of vibrant blooms and large harvests. But amidst this work and planning, have you considered how to keep our handy garden helpers happy?

Olivia Watts from the Field Studies Council, a keen biological recorder and gardener, delves into ways you can attract pollinators of all kinds into your garden…

Bees, moths, flies, and beetles are just some of the unsung heroes of our gardens. Throughout spring and summer, they work tirelessly to raise young, and in turn, provide us with a multitude of benefits.

While honeybees have long been associated with pollination, it’s important to acknowledge that there are thousands of other species that also carry out this essential role. In the UK alone, we have roughly 270 different species of bee, all of which have unique lifecycles and adaptations to ensure the successful transfer of pollen from one flower to another. Plus, there are approximately 2,500 species of moth, thousands of flies and a considerable number of beetles and wasps that do their bit to help out with pollination and which provide other benefits for the garden as well.

How to attract pollinators to your garden

Like all animals, pollinators need food, water, and shelter. By providing these things, you can help ensure a thriving and diverse pollinator population in your own garden – whether you have a large green space or a small yard. Here are some top tips:

Offer a variety of flowers

Since different insect pollinators have varying preferences and feeding abilities, it’s crucial to provide a mixture of flowers in different colours, shapes, and sizes. Including native wildflowers is beneficial, as they have coevolved alongside native insects. For instance, the Garden Bumblebee with its long tongue is perfectly adapted to reach the nectar in tubular flowers like foxgloves.

Opt for single-headed flower varieties, as they are easier for pollinators to access compared to double-headed ones. In small gardens, consider adding potted herbs, which not only serve as useful cooking ingredients but also widely attract pollinators with their flowers.

Ensure year-round blooms

Maintain a diverse range of plants that flower throughout the year, providing a constant supply of nectar. While there are numerous options for summer-flowering plants, remember to include early spring bloomers like rosemary, which offers a vital nectar source for emerging queen bumblebees. Ivy is a crucial autumn-flowering plant as its flowers provide nourishment well into November, serving as a critical fuel source for insects preparing for hibernation.

Make a DIY water station

Even in small outdoor spaces you can create places for pollinators to stop for water. (Photo by Olivia Watts).

Our pollinators also need pit stops to drink – especially when we get very hot dry spells. Large ponds are just one fabulous way to incorporate water into your garden, but there are simpler alternatives if space is limited.

Consider creating small ponds using barrels or old Belfast sinks if you have the room. However, you can easily provide a pit stop for pollinators with just a small dish and some pebbles. Simply add some pebbles into a dish, and fill it with water. Ensure the tops of some pebbles are above the water line so insects can easily rest on them and take a drink.

Create shelters in small spaces

If you can provide suitable areas for pollinators to nest and raise young, you will already have the next generation in your garden!

In a section of your garden, leave it to grow wild and you might be surprised what makes its home there. Native grasses and wildflowers attract butterflies and moths, as their caterpillars rely on these plants for survival. By leaving this area undisturbed, you offer a safe space for these pollinators to raise their young.

Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar seen in the garden last summer, feeding on willowherb in the wilder patch of the garden. (Photo by Olivia Watts).
Bee hotel and the individual cells created by solitary bees. (Photos by Olivia Watts).

Our Hawkmoth WildID guide includes beautiful illustrations of the UK hawkmoth species as adults and as caterpillars.

You can also enhance nesting opportunities in wild patches by adding a bee hotel for solitary bees. Even in small yards, bee hotels can be attached to houses or fences, and by providing a few pots of flowering plants nearby, you can make a significant difference in attracting pollinators. Mason bees utilise the bee hotel by filling the cavities with a mixture of pollen and nectar, before laying an egg – the nectar and pollen provide a food supply for the young. The parent bee then seals each chamber using mud.

Protect what you love

Over the last century, several pollinating insects have become extinct, and studies across the globe have reported on their decline. For gardeners to enjoy flowers and food, it is essential to take care of these little garden heroes – we cannot live without them!

We can protect what we love by encouraging them to live alongside us and recording our sightings. Identifying your garden wildlife is a fantastic way to connect with nature, and keeping records can help inform conservation decisions and track the state of the wildlife in the UK – be part of something wider by encouraging, identifying, and recording wildlife.

Our ladybird guide is a great entry into wildlife identification as many species can be found in gardens and identified without hand lenses or microscopes. (Photo by Olivia Watts).

Unlock the wonders of your garden with WildID Guides – with a wide selection of over 100 guides, including bees, butterflies, and garden birds, there’s something for everyone. Compact, lightweight, splashproof, and excellent value, WildID guides are fantastic resources for any gardener.

Get your guide, grab a cuppa, and immerse yourself in the wonderful wildlife in your garden!

This article was originally published in Grow Your Own Magazine in 2023.