gathering place critters (copy)

A monarch butterfly pulls nectar from button bush blooms. 

KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World file

I have had a flower garden for years, but what do I need to do to make it more pollinator friendly so I can see more butterflies? SB

The importance of pollinators to our food supply is difficult to understate, as 1 in 3 bites of our food can typically be directly attributed to the work of pollinators. And about 80% of flowering plants depend on pollinators to move their pollen from flower to flower. Urbanization tends to diminish pollinator habitats, but we can work to counter that trend in our yards. Transitioning our flower garden to a pollinator garden is fairly simple, but to be considered a pollinator garden, there are a few critical elements that need to be embraced.

First of all, you need nectar plants. Nectar is the food that pollinators are looking for. It is their fuel. Various plants attract different pollinators depending on color and shape. For example: Butterflies enjoy flowers that have what we would call a “landing zone.” This would be a flower similar to a daisy. It gives them a place to land, walk around and eat nectar.

Secondly, if you want to see a lot of butterflies, you will need some larval plants. By larval plants, we mean plants the butterfly caterpillars can feed on, such as dill, fennel or parsley, among others. If you are wanting to attract Monarch butterflies, you will need to plant milkweed, as it is the plant Monarchs search out to lay their eggs.

One thing to remember is to not get too attached to your larval plants, as they will get devoured by the caterpillars. Because of this and because larval plants tend not to be as showy as nectar plants, you might want to consider grouping them together in a less prominent part of your garden.

You can also add a pollinator feeder. We are all familiar with bird or hummingbird feeders. But for butterflies, you can put out fruit rinds or perhaps those bananas that got too ripe before you could eat them. Oranges or other fruits will work as well. A sponge in a dish of lightly salted water is also helpful. Use sea salt, as it contains more nutrients.

It is also a good idea to have some large rock features as part of your pollinator garden. Butterflies need to warm up to be able to fly. The flight temperatures vary depending on species, but a nice rock is a great place for them to warm up.

Also, we often see water features for birds in gardens, but consider adding one for pollinators, too. To be appropriate for pollinators, it should be fairly shallow, with small rocks added to give them a place to stand.

You can visit the “hot topics” section of our website for more information on gardening for pollinators.

You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th Street, or by emailing us at