A few daffodils are generally the first signs of a Charleston spring, followed by a reliable sequence of blossoms all outdoing their predecessors. Infinite shades of camellia give way to golden jessamine, building toward the crescendo that is azalea season for a short, but majestic couple of weeks. Before long, the jasmine is in bloom, casting its scents. Inevitably, the humidity sets in.
Gardening is an overlooked staple of Charleston’s culture, with illustrious blooms an assumed detail of most downtown homes but still a point of joy for many of us. Moderate winters provide ample opportunity for long blooming seasons, but the function should match the feature in our gardens.
Pollinators play an integral role in our local and global ecosystems. If you enjoy fruits, nuts, vegetables, coffee, cotton or honey, then pollinators should be important to you. (If you don’t enjoy those things, you are likely insufferable and can dismiss this all as hippy nonsense.)
With bee populations plummeting, butterfly numbers in decline and billions fewer birds than in decades past, it is time the average gardener considers their role.
There are a few ways the Charleston gardener can improve their garden’s prospects for benefiting local pollinators. Incorporating perennial plants, or those that return each year, will create a reliable food source pollinators can count on. Those perfect annuals at the local home improvement store may catch your eye now, but they’re life is short and an easy casualty to Charleston’s periodic droughts and blistering heat. Annuals benefit native wildlife too — but a healthy balance is key. Utilize annuals to both extend your growing season and to mix things up as the season evolves.
Variety is indeed the spice of life, so diversifying your garden to incorporate the most offerings will attract more pollinators. A multitude of sizes and colors will not only appeal to you, but also to our winged friends. While honey bees are important, so too are small mason bees and wasps. Salvias are a perfect option in this instance, offering seemingly endless colors, sizes, and long-lasting blooms.
One of the greatest threats to pollinators is destruction of habitat, and the one thing Charleston residents can agree on are the issues posed by overdevelopment. Planting native plants, or those that have co-evolved with pollinators in this region, will supplement some of the loss caused by habitat destruction. Native species will perform better in Charleston’s soil and climate, and have been shown to offer more nutritional value.
Limiting your pesticide use or eliminating them altogether is vital for the future of pollinators. Opting out of mosquito treatments or pulling weeds instead of spraying will prevent unnecessary harm to both entire colonies and individuals alike.
Finally, some garden staples are meant to be eaten, not adored. Milkweed, a native species, is the lifeblood of the monarch butterfly. Planting milkweed will practically guarantee monarch visits once they have migrated to Charleston. Fennel, parsley, paw paw and passion vine all do well here, and are a staple for some of our native butterfly species.
Planning a garden can feel overwhelming, so I encourage you to take it a step at a time. However, next time you have a hankering to brighten up your yard, porch or front stoop, I ask you to consider the pollinator.