By Marianne Binetti
It is up to gardeners to save the world. It all starts with the birds and the bees, and there is one thing we can all do to protect our dwindling population of pollinators: Plant more early- blooming flowers.
Early-blooming plants provide nectar or food for the hungry hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. In spring these important pollinators just awaken, or arrive from warmer climates after their winter break. They need early bloomers to survive.
Hellebores, snowdrops, and crocuses are the first flowers to bloom in the Northwest. So consider these three the triplets of delight for our pollinating insects and nectar-seeking birds.
Shrubs that flower early may have small blooms that are less obvious to us but very important to pollinating insects. The tiny blooms release a scent that alerts and lures the pollinators to their location. Evergreen lily-of-the-valley bush (Pieris japonica) gets my vote as the best-behaved and best-looking shrub for any landscape. The early-spring blooms have a delicious, sweet scent, which would get the pollinators’ votes as well.
Perennials that come back year after year often flower in the late spring or summer. But pulmonaria (also known as lungwort) is a shade- and drought-tolerant exception. Pulmonaria blooms as early as February in my garden, and the tubular-shape pink or blue blooms play host to the first hummingbirds of the new spring season.
Cue the natives to drum up an easy-care and early-blooming food source for pollinators in your landscape’s wooded or more natural areas. Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia aquifolium) thrives in the dry shade of a cedar tree, with good-looking evergreen foliage, and late-summer berries that delight wildlife.
Pot up some primroses if you don’t have the space to add other early bloomers. There is no reason to leave containers empty just because last summer’s annuals could not survive the winter. Primroses sold in 4-inch plastic pots are one of the earliest color spots you can find in the nursery section. Plant the brightly blooming primroses in porch pots; your front doorway will welcome the pollinators, as well as the people who visit your home.
Tip: You can group pots of primroses together in a basket, bucket, or other recycled container, and hide the rims of the plastic pots with moss. Keep the small plastic pots watered and you’ll have color on the porch or patio until the frost-free days of May arrive. That is when the summer annuals can take over, and provide more flowers and more pleasure for people and pollinators.
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