Lastly, I choose the flowers for spring. It is more difficult to find plants or seeds for native, spring-bloomers.
I have to admit that, so far, my pollinator garden has been least successful in spring. I really don’t see many bees then. My plants are still small and not producing many flowers yet. The fact that we’ve had a few cold, late springs has probably also been a factor.
I’m now concentrating my gardening efforts and budget on spring-blooming pollinator plants. The two most important groups of native flowers for spring are woodland flowers, and shrubs and trees.
Typically, woodland flowers take advantage of the sun before leaves unfurl in spring. They grow early and quickly, and their flowers are important food sources for early solitary bees and bumblebee queens. After the trees leaf out, some of these plants, known as woodland ephemerals, become dormant and die back to the ground. This way they don’t suffer in the shade and drier conditions in the summer.
Since woodland flowers grow under trees, I concentrate spring-blooming plants in shadier areas of the garden.
I am growing a variety of woodland flowers, but none have amounted to much yet. According to Heather Holm, author of Pollinators of Native Plants, 3 of the most important spring woodland flowers for pollinators are Virginia waterleaf, wild geranium, and Jacob’s ladder.
In late spring, I see lots of bee activity on smooth penstemon. Unfortunately, one of those bees is the aggressive European wool-carder bee. Males guard and attack other bees that visit. Bumblebees are a lot bigger and don’t seem too bothered by the wool-carders though.
Buying woodland plants and seeds
Woodland plants can be challenging to grow from seed because they will not germinate if they dry out. If you try to grow them from seed, they must be purchased moist-packed in the summer, and either planted right away, or kept moist in the fridge.
I find it easiest to simply buy spring woodland plants from a native plant nursery whenever I can find them. If you’re willing to make the drive, Connaught Nursery in Cobden and Beaux Arbres Native Plants in Bristol, Quebec have good selections.
Spring non-native flowers
In my garden, I also see bees visiting crocuses, lungwort, early catmint, and Salvia ‘May Night’.
Spring-blooming native trees and shrubs
If space permits, add a native tree or a few flowering native shrubs. Pollinators will visit the flowers and birds will enjoy the seeds or fruit. In my garden, I see a lot of bee activity on pussy willow, chokecherry, wild plum, crabapple, and serviceberry.
It can be difficult to find native shrubs and trees, unless you don’t mind cultivars. Since they take so long to grow, I don’t grow them from seed. They’re pricey compared with perennials, so this is where I spend the bulk of my gardening budget. I have bought native shrubs and trees from Make it Green Garden Centre in Kanata, and Green Thumb Garden Centre in Nepean. If you can find other interested gardeners, you can order them from Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville. They do not sell retail, so you have to order a minimum of 10 of one type.