The Boulder Pollinator Garden Project
While urban areas contain roads, buildings, and utility infrastructure, cities also share some of the attributes of natural areas such as creeks, plants, animals and other living things. High-quality urban landscapes provide multiple benefits to people. Trees and other plants provide shade and temperature control, improve air and water quality, absorb stormwater runoff, and cycle carbon from the air into soils and living systems. By incorporating diverse native plants, we can rebuild landscapes that support our wild pollinators and other beneficial insects - the foundations of thriving food webs that support life.
Habitat fragmentation keeps insects and wildlife from moving between habitat patches. How do we address this issue? Every patch of native plants that each of us grows in our yards, schools, businesses, and public spaces adds up, and working together, we can transform the city to support life by creating pathways of connected habitat. The city along with partners, including the Goss-Grove neighborhood, CU, and Naropa are currently planning and building the first pollinator corridor in Boulder, the La Tierra Canta.
The city would like to hear from you about how you use your yard, your preference for landscaping styles, your interest in pollinator gardening and your support for community-wide pollinator pathways. Please share your thoughts by participating in a brief survey at BeHeardBoulder.
Pollinators need the same things as other animals - food, water, nesting sites to rear their young and safe, poision-free spaces.
On this page, you’ll find tips, plant lists and other information to help you get started.
How to Grow a Pollinator Garden
Plant flowers that bloom all season
Pollinators need food from spring to fall, so plant as many flowers as you can of different colors, shapes and types to create a smorgasbord of nectar and pollen. Just like people, healthy bees and other pollinators need a variety of foods. A good diet helps bees to withstand all the other threats that are undermining their health, including disease, lack of habitat and pesticides. These low water plants are perfect for pollinator gardens in our climate and this guide shows you which plants bloom during each season.
Feed the caterpillars
Caterpillars turn into butterflies.Grow plants to provide nectar for adult butterflies and food for their young. Learn how with this fact sheet from Colorado State University.
Plants that are native to our local area are the best way to attract and support native bees and other pollinators, since they evolved together. Native plants are beautiful, appropriate for our location and help to conserve water. Many of the weeds that are invading our natural lands originated as exotic ornamental plants in landscaping - yet another reason why it’s so important to choose native plants. Learn more about going native from Open Space and Mountain Parks and the Audubon Society’s Habitat Hero Program.
Don’t use pesticides and lawn chemicals!
The decline of bees, pollinators and other animals are associated with pesticide use - both in our yards and from runoff into our creeks. These products also harm people and pets. Play it safe and avoid pesticides - this includes pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
Provide nesting sites for native bees
Learn about the places and types of materials that native bees use for nesting sites and how to provide them in your garden. Check out helpful this fact sheet from the Xerces Society to make your garden inviting for a multitude of native bee species.
What about honeybees? Should you get a hive?
No. Honeybees are fascinating creatures, but they are not native to this part of the world and were brought to the Americas by settlers for their honey. Honeybees now play an important role in agriculture, particularly monoculture systems. But they are generalists that feed on a wide range of flowers and each hive has thousands of individuals - 20,000 or more - that compete with our solitary native bees for food. A backyard hive will not help our native bees, and may in fact, harm them. Honeybees are not at risk of going extinct, but our native bees are. The way you can protect our local pollinators and help curb biodiversity loss is to plant a pesticide-free pollinator garden with all the attributes that support solitary and bumblebees. This video provides more information.
Protect pollinators from poisoning
Do not apply neonics to your yard
- To avoid neonics (neonicotoids), check labels before buying products.
- If you hire a landscaping company, ask for detailed information about any products applied to your yard and ensure that neonics or any other insecticides are not used. Better yet, ask for organic services and make sure you get them.
- Keep your yard healthy for people and the environment by going pesticide-free and using natural lawn care.
Purchase and grow bee-friendly flowers
- To avoid poisoning pollinators, ask your garden center or nursery for organic plants. The most important products to avoid are systemic insecticides that poison the nectar and pollen. Some nurseries have started eliminating neonicotinoids due to consumer pressure, but are now substituting other systemic products like flupyradifurone and cyantraniliprole. This fact sheet from the Xerces Society shows you how to buy bee-safe plants.
- Support nurseries that provide systemic insecticide-free plants - but try to find organic plants to avoid fungicides, contact insecticides and other products that can harm pollinators.
- The safest way to be sure your plants are pesticide-fee is to grow them from untreated seed or cuttings.
- Share untreated plants, cuttings and bulbs with your friends and neighbors!
- Plant as many native plants as possible to provide food for Colorado’s native bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.
Other Actions and Resources
- Scientists don’t have enough information about the distribution and populations of insects. Become a community scientist, by tracking pollinators, other insects and wildlife that you see in your yard, in parks and open space with the Wild Boulder citizen science project.
- You can also help track bumblebee sightings by participating in the Xerces Society’s Project BumbleBee.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are over 950 species of bees in Colorado. There are over 550 in Boulder County alone. They are all different sizes, shapes and colors. There are 22 bumblebee species, but the vast majority of wild bees are a solitary and most species next in the ground. A single female digs a hole in the ground and provides a ball of pollen and nectar for each egg she lays. Some bees nest in hollow stems or holes in wood.
Native bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees are in trouble, but we know far less about them than honeybees, because most are solitary, many are tiny and they are difficult to survey. Many species of native bees provide essential pollination for agricultural crops. But importantly, they pollinator native plants, which are the fabric and foundation of ecosystems. Many species are at risk of extinction. Once common butterflies, such as the monarch butterfly, are also experiencing plummeting populations. The fruits and seeds that are produced as a result of native pollinators are eaten by birds, mammals and other animals. As pollinator populations decline, the lower production of fruits and seeds is placing the entire natural system in peril with cascading impacts up the food chain to other animals, ultimately, to us.
One of the most challenging issues of our time is the precipitous decline of insects, particularly pollinators that over 80% of the world's plants rely on for reproduction. Multiple stressors are factors in the decline of insects. One is habitat destruction and fragmentation from urbanization, agriculture and resource extraction. Pesticides and other toxic chemicals are another major factor. So are diseases. And climate change has a major impact on insects and plants directly, but also can affect the synchrony of flowers and pollinators. This presentation from the Colorado Pollinator Summit by Dr. David Inoueye shows the effects of climate change on plants and pollinators - his study area is at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory where there is no habitat fragmentation and no pesticides used. In other areas, the combination of climate change, habitat loss, pesticide exposure and disease are related, but separate stressors that are putting whole ecosystems at risk.
An often overlooked approach to change this trajectory is to grow native plants, particularly in cities and urban areas, that can serve as refuges to protect pollinator populations as well as provide migration routes for insects and animals on the go as climate change alters habitats and animals seek cooler areas that are higher in elevation and further north. The city is currently working with multiple partners to develop a long-term plan for the creation of pollinator habitat and connected pathways.