FAQ: Addressing common concerns

This section is a miscellaneous collection of possible issues and how I would address them. I hear these questions and comments frequently from people visiting my pollinator garden.

I don’t want to get stung

I have never been stung by a bee in my 20 years of gardening. I was stung by a paper wasp when there was a hidden nest was under our deck. Social bees, like honeybees, and social wasps will sting if they perceive that their hive/nest is threatened. Since most bees are solitary, it is very unlikely that you would be stung by one of them. Bees on flowers are busy and aren’t hunting for people to sting. Male bees cannot sting. For more information, see this PDF brochure called Inviting Bees to Your Property: No Fear of Stings! from North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

To avoid scaring people passing by, I keep flowers a few feet from the sidewalk.


Ticks, and the Lyme Disease they carry, are now in Ottawa. Anyone who ventures outside should learn how to avoid them, and how to remove them correctly. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around, especially about how to remove them, such as by using petroleum jelly to smother them, or heating them with a flaming match. Do your research! The City of Ottawa Public Health department has a page about Lyme Disease. It explains how to properly do a tick check, and how to remove a tick correctly. Free tick keys and information sheets are available to city residents.

You can also consult the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides brief, clear instructions for correct Tick Removal. Listen to the A Way to Garden podcast interview with tick researcher Dr. Neeta Connally, and the Field Guides Podcast episodes Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, and Ticks Suck the Big One. You’ll find authoritative information and tips from the American northeast, where ticks have already been a big problem.

What will the neighbours think?

I have read about some native plant gardeners receiving complaints from neighbours and municipal officials because their garden isn’t conventional. Although my yard now looks different from neighbouring yards and gardens, much to my relief, people have only given me positive feedback — they think it is pretty and they appreciate my good intentions. To avoid trouble, you can:

  • keep garden edges and other highly visible areas tidy
  • use a traditional garden style using non-traditional native plants. See Mt. Cuba’s formal garden for ideas
  • I also bought a ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign from the Xerces Society and installed it along the path in an to explain my project.
  • I created plant labels for the garden to make it clear that the native plants were there intentionally, not simply ‘weeds’ that had sprung up.
  • read how landscape designer Benjamin Vogt passed a weed inspection by the home owners’ association in his Nebraska neighbourhood.

My yard is too shady

There are native pollinator plants that tolerate shade. They may not bloom as much as they would in part-shade, but it is still possible to attract pollinators. There is even a type of milkweed, native to SW Ontario, called poke milkweed that grows in shade. The Natural Web has a 3-part series about A Butterfly Garden that Embraces Shade. Author Heather Holm has a PDF poster featuring pollinator plants for Shade – Part Shade. See my Assessing your light conditions page for more information about pollinator gardening in part-shade.

My yard is too small

If you have a very small yard:

  • look at neighbouring yards to see if others are already growing pollinator-friendly plants. You can complement their gardens by choosing plants that bloom at other times or provide different resources (pollen or nectar, stem nest sites). For example, if a neighbour has lots of suitable summer flowers, you can grow flowers for spring and fall.

My yard is in a poor location

Even if you think your yard may not be in the greatest location for a pollinator garden, try it anyway.

  • My pollinator garden is on busy corner, only a few blocks from a 6-lane road, Carling Avenue. Our yard is surrounded by Notre Dame High School’s sports’ field, houses with large lawns and few gardens, swimming pools on either side, yet many pollinators and birds have found my garden and call it home.
  • in the United States, the Monarch Highway project is encouraging participants to plant milkweed and other pollinator plants along highways in a north-south corridor.

I’m not a gardener/I don’t have a green thumb

When working with native plants and other hardy plants, you don’t need to have a green thumb because Mother Nature has a green thumb. Give Mother Nature a chance and she will do most of the work. Think of yourself as a facilitator.

By growing native plants that are accustomed to local conditions, you increase your changes of success.

I want a no-maintenance garden/I don’t have time

Less maintenance, not no-maintenance: There is no such thing as a no maintenance garden. Even a native plant garden requires some time to care for it. You will save time on conventional maintenance tasks intended to keep a garden very tidy, such as dead-heading, spreading mulch, bagging leaves, and so on. In a native plant garden, you will spend more time removing self-sown seedlings. I consider these as free plants and transplant them to other places in my garden or give them to others who want to start their own pollinator gardens.

Plant native shrubs for pollinators and birds. Shrubs require less work than perennials and annuals. They also ‘shrink’ the yard by filling in areas instead of lawn or other plants. For bees, you can plant ninebark, elderberry, wild roses, New Jersey tea, meadowsweet, shrubby St. John’s Wort, and others. Butterflies enjoy the flowers of buttonbush, summersweet, and Virginia sweetspire. Shrubs like dogwoods, spice bush, and hop tree are host plants for butterfly caterpillars.

Observing instead of working: I do spend a lot of time in the garden, but I don’t spend it all working. For a lot of that time, I’m standing around watching the activity. For example, if I see a new insect, I want to watch it, try to identify it, read about it, etc. Weeding or other tasks can wait. Gardening is my creative outlet, my classroom, my meditation, and my exercise. For me, I don’t have to spend time in the garden, I get to spend time in the garden.