Creating Pollinator Pathways on Cape Cod

Creating Pollinator Pathways on Cape Cod

It’s been wonderful to see the growing interest in supporting pollinators and other wildlife. People understand that having a healthy landscape that contains a thriving population of pollinators and predators is good for us all. But some think that that being part of the pollinator pathway movement means that they have to turn their property into a wild meadow, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s possible to support pollinators in a variety of ways that suits many styles of gardening.

This Cape Cod garden has a slope that’s planted with drought-tolerant herbs. The gray Santolina isn’t a native plant, but the orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native perennial that also thrives in dry soil. You can incorporate many native perennials such as butterfly weed in traditional Cape Cod landscapes.

Can I grow pollinator plants in containers?

If your space is limited or already fully planted, consider growing annuals and perennials that attract pollinators in pots or boxes. You can grow plants that attract a range of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators in window boxes, pots or urns. Such plants can be part of a mixed planter, or put singly in containers. If you want to grow perennials that stay outside, use pots or boxes that won’t crack during the winter, and use perennials that are hardy in Zone 4 or below. If you have space to pull those pots into an unheated but cold garage, you can use clay pots and plants that are hardy up to Zone 7.

Window boxes, pots and other containers can be planted for pollinators. In these boxes, Zinnias and Verbena bonariensis are two of the plants that bees and butterflies love.

Which annuals attract pollinators?

Whether you’re planting containers or putting annuals in flower gardens, there are several that attract bees and other pollinators. Zinnias, Cosmos, and single-flowering Dahlias are three of the most popular. If you also want Zinnias for cutting flowers, use the taller varieties such as State Fair or California Giants. But if you are looking for shorter plants, or those that don’t require the removal of older, fading flowers to keep the plants blooming (deadheading), plant the variety called Profusion, which come in several colors. Zinnias can be grown in larger pots and boxes, in raised beds with vegetables, or in with other annuals and perennials.

Cosmos also come in different colors and sizes, as do the single dahlias.

Cosmos are native to the warmer parts of North America, but are good annuals for Cape Cod. In addition to orange, you can find Cosmos in pale or dark pink and white. Sonata Cosmos are shorter, and Sensation Mix are taller. The variety called Bright Lights are yellow and orange. Cosmos can be found in pots, six-packs or planted from seeds.
Butterflies and bees love Zinnias!

What perennials do well in Cape Cod pollinator pathways?

There are dozens of perennials that support pollinators on Cape Cod. To see and download a printable list, click here for our informational handout. Some favorites with area gardeners include bee balm (Monarda sp and varieties), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), Stoke’s aster (Stokesia laevis), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), coneflower (Echinacea sp. and varieties) and yarrow (Achellia millefolium).

Stokes asters and coneflowers are two favorite native perennials for Cape Cod Gardens. They flower in July, and grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. In perennial gardens you might want to combine these with hardy asters that flower in the fall.
Butterflies love Stokesia, so those who want to plant a butterfly garden should include this plant.
Bee balm comes in a variety of colors and heights. It’s a plant that spreads, so well suited to larger gardens and containers. Should you not like how this perennial looks after flowering, it can be cut to the ground once the blooms fade without harming the plant.
Yarrow does well in dry or well-drained gardens. The flowers are as wonderful for cutting as they are for pollinators. Deadhead yarrow by removing stems of faded flowers. In some varieties this triggers a second bloom.

Do I need to turn my yard into a meadow to help pollinators?

In short, no: you don’t need to convert your lawn or gardens into a wildflower meadow to be a part of the pollinator pathway, although anyone who wants to do that certainly can. You can plant pollinator support plants anywhere! Using native shrubs and perennials in your existing beds or along the edges of your yard can also make an important contribution.

These Rudbeckia triloba are growing on the edge of a yard along with our native button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Both are examples of pollinator support plants that can be incorporated in existing landscapes.

This post from the Maine Cooperative Extension gives some good tips for planting pollinator gardens.

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