Create Your Own Pollinator Garden

Create an ecosystem in your backyard by incorporating native pollinator-attracting plants. ©Steve Buckley

Create an ecosystem in your backyard by incorporating native pollinator-attracting plants. ©Steve Buckley

Why Grow a Pollinator Garden? As pollinators such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies fly along their migratory routes, they need to refuel. Pollinator gardens are like gas stations along these migratory routes. Pollinators have evolved with native plants, and their relationships are complex. For example, certain plants only produce nectar in their blooms when certain species of pollinator are known to be traveling through. This timing is important, so the plant doesn’t waste energy producing nectar when there wouldn’t be anything around to sip the nectar and spread it’s pollen. This is why we encourage the use of native plants in your backyard gas station for pollinators. Plus, it’s patriotic, the White House plans to promote the health of pollinators too!

A butterfly pollinates an Aesclepias or Milkweed.

Coevolution: A butterfly pollinates an Asclepias or Milkweed. This native plant is the host for larval butterflies, specifically Monarchs. ©Molly McCormick


Choosing Plants…Borderland’s List of Flowering Plants: These are the species we commonly grow-out for our restoration in the Semidesert Grasslands, Madrean Evergreen Woodlands, and Riparian Scrublands of Southern Arizona.

Plant a Butterfly Garden

Choose appropriate Milkweeds for your garden habitat.

Observe the habitat and microclimates in your backyard, and choose plants appropriate to those locations. For example, if your backyard is open and sunny be sure to choose plants who like lots of sun. If you have shade and plan on watering a lot, then you can choose more riparian-adapted species. Try create forest gardens, with layers of tree, shrub, forbs (wildflowers), and grasses. This will increase diversity and resilience in your system.

1. Bridge the Nectar Gap.  Early analysis of Borderland’s monitoring shows gaps in the nectar landscape of Southern Arizona’s desert habitats. The nectar landscape is the presence of flowers, and thus nectar in a location at a given time. What we are seeing are gaps in flower availability before and after our monsoon season. We have seen hummingbirds abandon nests during these times, because of lack of forage. In order to support our pollinator friends, we can choose plants that bloom in May-June and October-December. It is wonderful to have flowers all year round in your pollinator garden, and especially those critical times when there isn’t much else for our pollinators to eat. Look deeper into our analysis of the nectar landscape: HERE.

2. Cater to your guests. Not all pollinators visit all flowers. Biologists call the relationship between pollinators and plants “pollinator syndromes.” Nope, pollinator syndrome is not a disease, but knowing them is catching -ha! If you know who you want to invite to your garden, then check out what kinds of flowers they may visit. See this chart created by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign to make sure you are serving appropriate cuisine for your pollinators.

3. Make Pollinating Easy: Help out your pollinator friends by grouping plants of same species or flower color together. This will help them find flowers and they will use less energy thanks to shorter distances between blooms.

Planting Techniques – Keep your garden alive. There are techniques you can use that will increase your plant’s chances of survival by increasing its ability to live once established, without external imputs (water & nutrients) from you.  Here is a picture: planting instructions

Rock-Lined Berm and Mulched Basin

Happy Homes: Rock-Lined Berm and Mulched Basin ©Caleb Weaver

1. Create a berm around the plant that is large enough to be filled full with 2 liters to 1 gallon of water. Fill the berm and let it seep in 3 times each watering.  Slow, deep watering encourages deep root growth and like permits less frequent watering cycles.

2. Watering. Start by watering your plant twice a week. During the hot times of year, keep this up. As it cools, slowly taper waterings to once a week, then twice a month, and finally to once a month through winter. As spring comes, slowly ramp up waterings. Before monsoon rains, you will likely need to water plants twice a week, at least for the first few years. It will take 2-3 years for your garden to become established. After this time, it is possible for it to survive on rain alone. If you would like more blooms on your plants, you can always water more.

Beautiful Creations: Jason and his mulch art. Notice the use of sticks to keep leaf mulch from blowing away. ©Molly McCormick

3. MULCH! One of the best things you can do for your garden is to mulch with leaves, straw or other plant material. Mulch allows water to stay in the soil much longer, provides a barrier against weeds or unwanted plants, and acts as a fertilizer.. As the mulch breaks down, it provides soil and plants with beneficial nutrients that feed essential bacteria and fungi.  Avoid using material from noxious weeds or unwanted plants as mulch. In the desert, I like to use a few inches of mulch, and top it off with sticks or heavier material so that the mulch doesn’t blow away. Get creative with the placement of sticks, make “dream catchers” or other artistic displays. Rocks are great for cacti, and can be heat sinks. Sometimes the heat from sun-heated rocks provides protection for plants in colder climates, but sometimes it can cook plant.

Think about habitat for pollinators. Your garden can not only become a gas station for pollinators, but it can become home too. Create homes for pollinators by having brush piles, bare earth, rock piles, and tree stumps or snags in your yard. Keep a small basin or pot filled with water. You can purchase non-toxic “mosquito dunks” at your local hardware store to keep mosquito larvae out of your watering holes.

Avoid pesticides and other chemicals. A major part of pollinator population decline is the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides. These are used in agriculture, in backyards, and at many commercial nurseries. Find other ways to mitigate pests, and be sure the plants you obtain for your pollinator garden has not been sprayed with dangerous chemicals. If you can’t collect the seeds of native plants and grow them yourself, then purchase plants from local nurseries and ask about the use of chemicals.

Pollinators go crazy for this Baccharis or Seep Willow. How many species of pollinators can you count in this picture?

YUM! Pollinators go crazy for this Baccharis or Seep Willow. How many species of pollinators can you count in this picture? ©Caleb Weaver

Observe, Learn, Adapt, Share. We are constantly gaining new knowledge on pollinators and native plants. You can help, just by observing your garden. Watch for caterpillars that turn into butterflies and moths. Count the species of bees that visit. Learn the behaviors of hummingbirds. Take note of which plants thrive and which aren’t doing well. Over time, you can grow your garden to include plants that are better adapted for your yard’s habitat. Share this knowledge with your neighbors and expand your neighborhood pollinator gas station! If you want to get more involved, there are many non-profit organizations that love to have volunteers and citizen scientists (including Borderlands!) Check out our Resource page for more. Also check out the National Phenology Network and sign up to make observations at your favorite location.


Resources. There are many resources available to you, the budding pollinator garden designer. Here are a few:

Check out Borderlands Restoration Resources Page for a large list of resources.

Creating a Pollinator Garden – Article by Gary Nabhan & Caleb Weaver

Read the Xerces Society’s monthly articles on pollinator gardens to learn tips & tricks.

Have a vegetable garden? Plant your pollinator garden with some of these related plant species to better support your veggies! Click here: Crop Wild Relatives – Tucson

Pollinator Partnership’s Guide to Choosing Pollinator Plants in the desert Southwest.

Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert, a searchable database created by Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

Desert Survivors Plant Nursery in Tucson sells native plants that are safe for pollinators.

Ahimsa Landscaping in Tucson can design your garden to be sustainable, functional, and aesthetic.

Butterflies in your playground – a valuable butterfly guide for children,  found and submitted by Dakota Lowe







  • Our Mission

    The mission of Borderlands Restoration is to reconnect wildlife, land, and people in the Arizona/Sonora Borderland region by involving people in restoring the ecosystem on which we depend.

  • Contact

    PO Box 1191
    299 McKeown Ave, Suite #3
    Patagonia, AZ 85624

    (520) 216-4148