How to make bees, butterflies and other beneficial bugs happy around your home.

On Memorial Day Weekend, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory will unveil its new  Pollinator Garden, an interpretive habitat that’s all about highlighting the powerful connections between animals, plants, and people.

“One idea that we’re trying to get across, and to get people interested in, is the biological relationships between animals and plants,” says Como Zoo invertebrate keeper Aaron Nelson, who is tending to the three varieties of bees that will be living in the habitat. “We want people to understand how important animals [like bees, butterflies, and birds] are to our ecosystem in hopes that they’ll be inspired to do more for pollinator conservation in their backyards as well.”

Did You Know?

  • Como’s new Pollinator Garden opens near the Carousel on Memorial Day weekend, and will be open daily through Labor Day.
  • More than two-thirds of the world’s crop species and more than 85 percent of flowering plants have a life cycle that depends on pollinators.
  • Your contributions to Como Friends also helped to support the new Milkweed Garden coming soon near the Primate Building, providing healthy habitat for Monarch butterflies, and an inspiring test garden for Como’s two million visitors.

As gardening season gears up, here are a few tips from Como’s Pollinator pros:

Let the Leaves Go
Bagging fallen leaves is often the first  chore of the season for springtime gardeners, but Nelson recommends going light on the raking to protect bee habitat and let other dormant insects come to life. “It can be a challenge for some people, but your lawn doesn’t have to be overly manicured all the time,” he says. “Leaving places that grow a little more wild, letting your grass get a little longer, and letting some weeds grow can all help to encourage the natural biological relationships pollinators are part of.”

Make a Pollinator Plan
Before you start planting, Mindy Walter, lead gardener at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, recommends coming up with a pollinator plan for the season. “Now’s a great time to plan what you want to do by visiting a garden center and talking to the staff about what plants they’d recommend for your conditions, or even checking out the University of Minnesota Extension website for great suggestions about what to plant for bees and butterflies,” she says.

If you’ve got areas of your yard that are tough to mow, consider redesigning with pollinator-friendly shrubs or flowers. And before you buy weed killer or insecticides, find out about pollinator-friendly products or alternative strategies. “In general, the more chemical-free you can keep your backyard, the better pollinators will like it,” she says.

Build a Bee House
Roll out the welcome wagon for the wild bees that help pollinate flowers and other garden plants by building a bee house. The internet is full of construction plans that range from  simple bundles of bamboo, to more elaborate structures for serious bee breeders. The University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab is a great place to start looking for building plans and other bee-keeping tips:

Start Small
Even small steps toward making your home garden more pollinator-friendly can make a big difference. “You don’t have to do everything at once,” says Walter. “A corner of your garden or a container pot is a great way to start introducing some of these practices.” While native plants like milkweed, purple coneflowers, and black-eyed Susans are perennial favorites in Minnesota’s pollinator gardens, horticulturists at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory like to mix it up with other annuals that add a pop of color for the public, and another source of nectar for pollinators.  “Once you start thinking about what pollinators make possible, you start to look for new ways you can make your garden even greener, and that’s what we hope this garden inspires people to do,” Walter says.

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