We all know that providing flowers is one way to help local pollinators. And with this in mind, thoughts of pollinator habitats conjure up images of sprawling wildflower meadows or colorful gardens blooming in the full sunlight. While these types of habitats are as great for pollinators as they are beautiful, homeowners surrounded by shade may feel like pollinator-friendly landscapes are unattainable.
I want you to know that just isn’t the case! Landscapes featuring trees and an abundance of shade can still provide great resources for pollinators. Existing flowering trees, shrubs and shade-tolerant herbaceous plants in shaded landscapes are beneficial resources for pollinators, and they can easily be added to a landscape to provide “trees for the bees.”
Not all trees with eye-catching blooms are beneficial to pollinators, but planting a variety of trees can ensure a year-round supply of blooms to help provide nourishment for pollinators. The eastern redbud, for example, is a versatile, native small tree that becomes covered with purplish-pink flowers in the early spring. The delicate white flowers of dogwoods follow about a month later. If you’re looking for a larger tree for your landscape, tulip poplars are fast-growing and can become some of the tallest trees in the landscape, providing shade and feature greenish-yellow flowers in late spring.
Still looking for more options? For those who enjoy fishing or have a stream or pond in their landscape, the white flowers of a catalpa tree brighten yards in the early summer. These trees are also the host plant for the catalpa sphinx moth, who’s larval form (catalpa worms) are prized fishing bait, so no worries about looking for bait with this tree around!
Additionally, bottlebrush buckeyes provide bursts of color during the heat of summer, while witch hazel trees provide a splash of yellow to complement fall foliage. Some other trees that can be used by pollinators include American plum, red maple, sugar maple, red buckeye, white fringetree, persimmon, American holly, yaupon holly, chastetree, and black locust.
Aside from various flowering tree species, shrubs may also provide floral resources for pollinators. One of the earliest to bloom includes the whitish-yellow flowers on paperbush in February. Spring bloomers include painted buckeye, sparkleberry, mayberry and blueberry. Pink abelia, lavender American beautyberry, white buttonbush, and white oakleaf hydrangea flowers can liven up landscapes in the summertime.
Hydrangeas are beautiful shrubs for shady landscapes, but not if your goal is to provide pollinator resources. The dense blooms of the popular mophead hydrangeas (Hortensia cultivars) are a collection of brightly colored modified leaves that mimic flowers. Thus, they do not provide pollen or nectar for pollinators. However, delicate lacecap hydrangeas, smooth hydrangeas and panicle hydrangeas are packed with fertile flowers for pollinators to enjoy.
Looking for something even smaller to plant in your shaded landscape? Try planting some trillium, begonias, violets, columbine, hostas, bleeding heart, Carolina jessamine, trumpet creeper, bugleweed ajuga, and hardy geranium. All of these are examples of shade-tolerant, herbaceous plants that provide bright splashes of color throughout the growing season, many of which can be easily found at local garden centers.
We still have a little bit of cooler weather left before things heat up, so you still have time to plant some new trees and shrubs in your landscape. Be sure to take care of the roots of nearby trees and shrubs when planting smaller plants. It can be tempting to cut through roots to get “bedding” plants close to tree trunks, but damaging tree roots can negatively affect the tree’s overall health.
With these tips from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and a little effort, you can turn your shade-dappled landscape into a pollinator paradise. Add a couple of extra trees, shrubs, and shade-tolerant herbaceous plants to feed native pollinators. Then sit back with a glass of tea and enjoy all of the new visitors from buzzing bumblebees to graceful butterflies flitting around your new pollinator-friendly landscape.