Help Wildlife With Early Nectar Plants

Amateur Gardening|February 08, 2020

Help Wildlife With Early Nectar Plants
Provide a feast of flowers and blossom, and your garden will soon be abuzz with hungry bees and butterflies. Hazel Sillver reveals the top picks for pollinators
Hazel Sillver

If you think it’s been a long, gloomy winter, then spare a thought for pollinators. As the season finally starts to draw to a close, they will begin to emerge from their winter sleep and head out in search of sustenance, and your borders and containers could be the perfect feeding ground.

With wildflowers in scant supply (it’s estimated that 97 per cent of wildflower meadows have been lost), gardens now provide vital food for bees and butterflies as they prepare to build nests and lay eggs. Ensuring a supply of nectar-rich late winter/early spring plants such as crocus, winter heather, and primrose could make all the difference

Take a stroll around the garden on a sunny winter’s day, and you’ll probably see (or hear) bumblebees. In December and January the buzz is likely to come courtesy of the buff-tailed bumblebee, which has started foraging in midwinter as a result of our warming climate. But in February and March, it could be the tree bumblebee, white-tailed bumblebee or the early bumblebee. Fresh out of hibernation, the queens will be feeding and searching for a nesting site, so give them a helping hand by growing their favourites – mahonia, hellebores, pussy willow, flowering currant, cherry blossom, and pulmonaria will all be welcome.

Beautiful butterflies

Butterflies will also be visible in the coming weeks – whether emerging from hibernation or arriving exhausted after a mind-boggling flight from Southern Europe or Africa. In March, look out for the harbinger of spring: the beautiful yellow brimstone, as well as commas, peacocks, red admirals, and small tortoiseshells. They feed on pussy willow and winter heather; then in mid-spring (when they’re joined by the beautiful green hairstreak, orange tip and painted lady butterflies) they enjoy fruit blossom, aubrietas, and wallflowers.

Last but not least, don’t forget our wonderful hoverflies, which help us, grateful gardeners, by gobbling up aphids. In the UK, we have more than 250 species, including some that hibernate and others that migrate.

Last year, a study carried out by Exeter University found that four billion of these beneficial insects arrive from Europe every spring. The researchers concluded that as our bees (which pollinate much of our crops) continue to struggle, the hoverfly’s role as a pollinator is more important than ever.

The best way to repay the favour is by supplying them with easily accessible nectar – they’ll appreciate many of the same plants that bees and butterflies love, such as crocus, apple blossom and forget-me-not. Provide spring blooms such as these, and you can enjoy garden wildlife on the wing early in the year.

Spring sustenance for bees

Erica carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’ AGM

This winter heather will continue to be covered in magenta flowers into late spring. It forms an evergreen mat in sun or semi-shade, and prefers neutral to-acid soil – although it can tolerate some alkalinity. H: 6in (15cm).

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February 08, 2020