Tuesday, April 2, 2019

How can we help Toronto's pollinators?

by Annemarie Baynton

Toronto is home to hundreds of species of pollinators, including over 360 species of bees and 112 species of butterflies. And they need our help.

Pollinators are in decline due to habitat loss, climate change and other stressors. Some are even endangered and at risk of extinction – like the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee and the Monarch butterfly.

STARK CONTRAST: What your grocery store looks
like with (top) and without (bottom) pollinators.
Source: Whole Foods

So what can we do? Plant pollinator gardens! Yes, the easiest and most effective way to help pollinators is to create much-needed habitat. The simple act of planting native plants, trees and shrubs will have positive benefits for all pollinators in Toronto.

Fortunately, many of the places to create pollinator gardens already exist – in our yards, school grounds, church properties, and parks. Our city with patches of parkland, ravines, urban gardens and green roofs, can provide an abundance of potential pollinator habitat.

Want to create a pollinator garden in your community? Apply for a PollinateTO grant!

Through its new PollinateTO Community Grants program, the City of Toronto is offering grants of up to $5,000 to support community-led projects that:

  • create pollinator gardens and rain gardens on public and private lands, including residential streets, neighbourhoods and school yards
  • enhance or expand existing gardens with native pollinator-friendly plants

So what exactly do pollinators need? And how do we create pollinator habitat? Find out, after the jump.


Pollinators need food, water and places to nest and overwinter to thrive in our urban environment.

Here's some gardening tips that will make pollinators (and you) happy.
Milkweed is an important native plant for pollinators -
especially the Monarch butterfly.
  • Plant native: Choose native plants, trees and shrubs rich in pollen and nectar. Locally grown and pesticide free are best.
  • Provide continuous bloom: Pollinators need a continuous source of food from spring to fall. Select a variety of plants so that something is always in bloom.
  • Provide water: A birdbath or shallow dish of water with half submerged rocks will help bees and butterflies quench their thirst.
  • Plant butterfly host plants: Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants. Monarch butterflies, for example, will only lay their eggs on milkweed, the sole food source for their larva.
  • Bare ground: Many native bees build nests in soil, so leave some bare patches and limit your use of mulch so our ground nesting bees can access the bare ground.
  • Leave dead stems: Some bees hibernate and lay eggs in hollow stems. If you do cut, leave the bottom 8 inches in place and bundle the cut stems and place them in your garden. Bundles of sticks and stems that are put out for yard waste collection too early in spring will often contain overwintering bees.
  • Leave the leaves: Leave the leaves where they fall or rake them into your garden to provide overwintering habitat for butterflies.
  • Minimize manicuring: A perfectly manicured lawn is a food desert for pollinators. Natural gardens and lawns offer the most benefits for pollinators in terms of food and nesting spots.
  • Avoid pesticides: Avoid plants/seeds treated with systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids. And don’t spray pesticides. Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw has banned the cosmetic use of pesticides since 2003.

Bare ground help ground-nesting
bees to thrive!

The City of Toronto is committed to protecting the 460+ pollinator species that call Toronto home. Find out more by reading about our pollinator protection strategy. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #PollinateTO.

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