Growing a garden where pollinators will flourish

Master gardener Ann Larson shares her tips and tricks for starting a native plant pollinator garden.

Pollinator garden at the Arc of Dreams in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Pollinator gardens are blooming into a more popular form of gardening, bringing together a collection of native plants that attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, bees and flies.

“Without pollinators, without the bees and the butterflies, we won’t have any fruit because they pollinate the fruit, of course not so much here, but in the southern and western states,” said Ann Larson, South Dakota master gardener. “But here in South Dakota, the soybeans, the corn, alfalfa, there’s just a lot of plants and in your garden then would be all of the other kinds of veggies.”

Butterfly weed

Native plants are critical to a successful pollinator garden.

“Because those are the ones that grow naturally around here, so they are going to be better suited, they are going to come up year after year, they are going to be stronger, more resilient, although some of them may have the bunnies, the deer, you know, some of them may also have the natural predators,” Larson said. “You want to include those that are better suited, better adapted to the environment.”

Native bee balm

Some of the native plants in South Dakota include milkweed, the native columbine, lead plant, clovers and sunflowers.


Pollinator gardens require minimal maintenance.

“Theoretically, it’s not supposed to have any maintenance, but you don’t want the invasive weeds and the kinds of plants that you really don’t want and that will come into your native garden,” Larson said. “So, you just kind of have to watch it.”

Purple prairie clover

While you want the garden to represent how the plants grow in nature, you also want to have some strategy behind the plants you are growing.

“So you don’t want to have it too cultivated, but you want to introduce those plants that give it color, will attract you know, the bees, the butterflies. Make sure you have some milkweed, but the tall ones you want to put in the back, and those are some things you need to think about, color, the season of bloom,” Larson said.

But don’t expect your pollinator garden to flourish in just the first year.

“They always say that plants, especially perennials, are sleeping the first year and then they are creeping the second year, but I like to say they explode the third year, because oh boy they did,” Larson said.

It’s a simple thing you can do for not only your landscape, but as a way to benefit agriculture as a whole.

“And it’s really important for the farmers because you know we need to have those pollinators that pollinate corn and the soybeans and the other kinds of crops,” Larson said.


Milk vetch

Pollinator gardens are a trend Larson expects to see continuing to grow.

“There’s a real change, a real push, for people understand now that it’s more important than ever to help our bees, our butterflies, because throughout the years, I don’t think they have gotten a lot of attention, and with the sprays and that kind of thing, their populations have diminished so much that I think we will see that more and more,” Larson said. “We have seen more interest in it and we even talk about it at some of our events of how to start one and what kinds of plants to use.”

There are several resources available to learn more about how to start your own pollinator garden, including SDSU extension , the Minnehaha Master Gardeners and talking with your local greenhouses.

Ariana is a reporter for Agweek based out of South Dakota. She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2022 with a double major in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, with a minor in Animal Science. She is currently a graduate student at SDSU, working towards her Masters of Mass Communications degree. She enjoys reporting on all things agriculture and sharing the stories that matter to both the producers and the consumers.

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