Bees, butterflies, moths, lacewings and hoverflies all play a vital role in helping plants to set seed, fruit and reproduce. Sadly, though, these pollinating insects are in decline. Two of the main factors in their decline are a lack of food and a shortage of suitable nesting sites.
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You can help pollinating species in early spring by growing sources of nectar and pollen, which can be in short supply at this time of year. Even just a small patch in a tiny garden will make a huge difference – the key is to choose the right plants. Opt for plants with nectar-rich, single flowers rather than double blooms, which are harder for pollinators to access and may not contain any nectar or pollen. Aim for a broad range of plants, so you provide nectar and pollen from early in the growing season, right through to the very end. And remember, both native and non-native plants can be valuable sources of nectar and pollen.
Discover six sources of early pollen and nectar, below.
Wallflower ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
Flowering almost constantly, Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ is one of the best pollinator plants you can buy. It provides a long nectar season for moths, butterflies and lots of bee species. Plants spread to over 50cm wide, so you just need one and it will flower from February to the end of summer.
How to grow wallflowers
This lovely woodland perennial, Primula vulgaris, is pollinated by bees, butterflies and other long-tongued insects, including the bee fly. They’re low-growing, so plant them around the edge of your patch for a ribbon of yellow from March until May.
All spring-flowering crocus, such as Crocus tommasinianus, provide early nectar and pollen for bees emerging from hibernation on warm spring days. Indeed, before they find a nest site, some bumblebee queens will sleep in the flowers overnight.
Ajuga reptans is a spreading, ground-cover plant that makes a great source of nectar for pollinators in spring and early summer. It’s particularly popular with bees and butterflies. Buy three small plants, such as Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’, to fill a corner at the front of your patch.
Helleborus Ashwood Garden Hybrids
Hellebores are an important source of nectar for bumblebees and other pollinators when they come out of hibernation. Blooming from midwinter to mid-spring, they’re widely available in garden centres in spring.
How to grow hellebores
Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’
Make as much use of your small space as you can by exploiting the vertical areas too. There are lots of pollinator-friendly climbers to choose from, including Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, which flowers in winter.
Clematis groups explained