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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Native plants help pollinators thrive

In this May 14, 2014, photo, Pacific Crest Trail self-supported speed record setter Heather Anderson of Bellingham enjoys the scent of blooming serviceberry while hiking near Sandpoint, Idaho. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

I just received the new book “Pollinator Friendly Gardening” by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyageur Press). It’s the first book I’ve read that devotes whole chapters to what pollinator insects need to thrive in a garden: water, shelter and food. It also addresses the fact that gardens planted with native plants attract and keep larger populations of pollinators than a garden full of conventional plants.

Pollinator insects include honeybees as well as native solitary bees (there are dozens in the Northwest), bumblebees, moths, butterflies, beetles, flies, wasps, birds and bats. Each pollinator seeks out a different palate of plants to meet its needs. We have done a good job of creating gardens with myriad popular plants that have come from all over the world. Pollinator-friendly plants like asters, golden rod, lavender, cat mint and dozens of others all came from somewhere else. What we have left out of our gardens are the native plants that our own native pollinators evolved with.

By adding native plants to the garden, we create a web of plants that can serve as a highway system the pollinators follow throughout the broader landscape. By including natives in our gardens, we create a wide spot in that road rather than an island. Here are a few Northwest native plants to add to your garden.

Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra) produces large crops of blue berries that can be used for wines, jams and drying. Pollinators and other animals draw nectar, eat its fruit or use its hollow stems for nesting. This large and rangy shrub is best planted as a backdrop at the back of a border. It needs moderate watering and some protection from the afternoon sun.

Golden currant (Ribes aureum) is one of the earliest sources of pollen and nectar in the spring that insect pollinators need to start their reproduction cycles. The shrub grows to about a 6 feet square mound with yellow flowers. It is quite drought tolerant, though a little water in August keeps it looking good.

Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) has found its way into ornamental cultivation but still has important values as a native plant in the region. It’s fragrant white flowers draw hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The shrub can grow to about 8 feet tall and wide. It adapts to a wide variety of soils and is fairly drought tolerant.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alinfolia) is a show stopper with its clouds of white flowers in late April. It’s the white shrub you see all over the landscape in our region. The flowers draw insects and the edible fruit draws birds, squirrels and humans – if they can move faster than the critters. It needs full sun, average soil and is drought tolerant. You do get larger berries if it gets a little water. It is an upright shrub or small tree that can reach 15 feet tall. Some cultivars have good fall color.

Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnw