by Christy Erickson

If you buy breakfast cereal, enjoy a drizzle of honey in your tea, or shop at local farmers markets, there’s a good chance the myriad threats facing bees today affects you. Bees play a role in one in three bites of food we eat and their declining population puts the world’s food security at risk. In response, companies, nonprofits, government agencies, and individuals are taking action to protect bees.

People are fighting against pesticide use, changing the way they buy food, and supporting their local beekeepers in an effort to support wild and domesticated bee populations. One of the biggest ways individuals are making a difference in the fight to save bees is by planting pollinator gardens in their yards to combat habitat loss.

Pollinator gardens are gardens that provide habitat for native pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds, and bats. They use flowering plants to attract pollinators who dine on pollen and nectar while playing a crucial role in the plants’ reproductive process. They incorporate water features and nesting sites to encourage pollinators to make the garden their permanent home.

While most pollinator garden guides are targeted toward homeowners who have a yard to work with, you don’t need a lot of space to make a difference. Foraging bees travel miles searching for flowers, and even a small patio garden is a welcome habitat for food, shelter, and hydration.

To make a pollinator garden on your balcony or patio, spend some time researching plants native to your region. You’ll need to choose plants that can thrive in containers — for the most part, that means small to medium-sized plants like flowers and small shrubs. Buying a variety of container shapes and sizes lets you accommodate different sized plants and create visual interest.

Find creative ways to make the most of your limited space, like hanging flower pots, tiered plant stands, and window boxes. Incorporate short, medium, and tall plants in the same container to create a lush appearance. And don’t forget to include a water dish and a bee hotel to give road-weary bees a reason to stick around.

Choose your potting soil carefully based on the specific species you want to plant. If you’re installing a native plant that usually grows in dry, rocky soil, opt for a cactus potting mix. Plants that grow in rich, moist forest soil, such as the columbine flower, do best with a potting mix high in organic matter. Consider a plant’s natural environment and do your best to mimic it in the garden. You can incorporate different ecosystems into the same garden by grouping plants in containers based on their native setting and adjusting your watering schedule accordingly.

No balcony or patio to speak of? No problem. Even an urban apartment can find space for a few wildflowers. Window boxes bring greenery to your home without taking up any space at all. Hang these planters from windows that receive plenty of sun. West- and south-facing windows are best for plants that love lots of sun and heat, while shade-tolerant varieties will prefer east- and north-facing windows. Plant your window boxes with short to medium-height natives. Native wildflowers like asters deliver a splash of color, narrow-leaved perennials like yarrow add texture, and vines like American wisteria cascade down toward the street with showy flowers. Add a miniature bird bath on a pedestal for an easy and effective water feature.

While a lack of space certainly adds challenges to creating a pollinator garden, it’s still possible to create a gorgeous, vibrant garden that’s good for the bees and good for you. Use this guide to get started and keep improving year after year as you discover which plants your local bees like best.

Image via Unsplash

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