By Lianne Nall

Tahoe gardeners wishing to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will find the answer in planting a combination of natives and hardy perennials. A gift to Mother Earth, this will also increase the ecological function of their yards. It’s all about relationships!

First, add natives. California’s native plants are unique, and Tahoe’s are even more so. They endure heavy snow for six to eight months, short summer growing seasons, extreme and rapid temperature swings, and low humidity. They survive in Tahoe’s limited topsoil by using an intricate network of root-like filaments called mycorrhizal fungi, which share nutrients and water with neighboring plants. They’ve co-evolved with native insects and birds to be dependent on each other for their reproduction. Native plants are hosts for butterflies and moths, which use these plants as a food source through various stages of their lives. In turn, the plants are then pollinated and dispersed by butterflies, bees, and birds. Their existence is interconnected, and one cannot survive without the other. A pollinator garden with native plants supports native habitats.

EYE SPY: Bees make a pit stop at some black-eyed Susans at Tahoe Tree Company. Photo by Lianne Nall

Second, add non-native hardy perennials. Hardy perennials and shrubs are not native. Yet after being successfully cultivated for over a century here in Tahoe, they have adapted to our climate, soils, and water availability, and can be combined with natives to support a thriving pollinator garden. They will provide long-lasting bursts of color, inviting birds, bees, and butterflies.

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Third, plant for continuous bloom throughout the summer. Pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds need pollen and nectar throughout the adult phase of their lives, so make sure to plan for blooms in early, mid, and late summer. Use guides such as Calscape, and chat with the nursery staff at Tahoe Tree Company and Villager Nursery to gather insights into your best planting combinations. Depending on how much sun, shade, or moisture your garden receives, you can choose plants that will add colorful blooms from May through September.

Finally, be patient. It takes time for a pollinator garden to come into its own. While one of the benefits of using native plants is their water independence, it can take two to three years for your nursery-bought natives to develop their root systems. In that time, they’ll be dependent on you for supplemental water. Once established, though, a native garden will need minimal watering during the dry summer months, a far-reaching investment in our environment and its many habitats.

Pollinator gardens reap rewards on many fronts. You’ll be met with splashes of color all summer, and you’ll share it with the many pollinators who’ll come to call your garden habitat their home.


FLOWER POWER: Stonecrop (Sedum spp.) is a plant native to the Sierra Nevada and the perfect addition to any pollinator-friendly garden. Photo by Lianne Nall

Pollinator Gardening in Tahoe

Each plant will attract different pollinators, so plan for a variety of species and think about the heights, color, and texture that will bring the most interest to your garden. Here are some plants, their blooms times, and the pollinators they attract throughout the summer:

EARLY SUMMER

Native shrubs (woody, tallest)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia): attracts native bees; a host plant to butterflies, like the California hairstreak; berries are eaten by birds and other wildlife.

Sierra Currant (Ribes nevadense): flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and other insects; host plant for butterflies, like the tailed copper.

Willows (Salix scouleriana and Salix geyeriana): attract native bees, birds, butterflies, and moths; host plants for butterflies like the western tiger swallow tail.

Native Herbaceous Perennials (Non-Woody, Mid-Height)

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum): attracts butterflies and moths; host plant for moths, like the garden tiger moth.

Columbine (Aquillegia formosa): attracts birds, bees, and butterflies; host plant to butterflies and moths like the orange tortrix moth

MID SUMMER

Native shrubs (woody, tallest)

Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa and Sambucus nigra): one of the most important sources of food for birds in California; host plant for butterflies and moths like the white-lined sphynx.

Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea): attracts native bees and is a host for butterflies and moths, like the polyphemus moth. The berries are eaten by birds and other wildlife.

Native Herbaceous Perennials (Non-Woody, Mid-Height)

Blue flax (Linum lewisii): attracts butterflies and is a host plant for moths and butterflies like the variegated fritillary.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): attracts birds, bees, and butterflies; host plant for butterflies and moths, like the Smeathmann’s aethes moth.

LATE SUMMER

Native shrubs (woody, tallest)

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus): attracts native bees, honeybees, and bumblebees like the yellow-banded day sphinx.

Western Spirea (Spirea douglasii): attracts native bees and is a host plant for butterflies and moths, like the Lorquin’s admiral.

Sierra Twinberry (Lonicera involucrate): attracts birds, hummingbirds, and bees, host plant for butterflies like the variable checkerspot.

Native Herbaceous Perennials (Non-Woody, Mid-Height)

Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum): attracts birds, bees, and butterflies; host plant to butterflies, like the Acmon blue.

Mountain Larkspur (Delphinium glaucum): attracts hummingbirds, bees, and moths; host plant for butterflies and moths like the bilobed looper moth.

Hardy perennials will bloom alongside the natives, providing pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Some examples include:

EARLY SUMMER

Violets (Viola spp.)Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spp.)

Strawberry (Fragaria spp.)

Lilac (Syringia vulgaris)

MID SUMMER

Creeping Phlox (Phlox spp.)

Peony (Paeonia spp.)

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)

LATE SUMMER

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Anenome (Anenome spp.)

Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)

Cone Flower (Echinacea spp.)

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