Small Space Gardening for Pollinators

Swallowtail butterfly on Rhododendron maximum flowers. Photo © Elaine MIlls

Learn which plants will attract and fill the needs of our native pollinators even if your garden space is limited to a small yard, a patio, or a balcony. Best gardening practices for pollinators and special considerations for designing and maintaining successful containers of native plants will also be discussed.

This free online class was offered by Extension Master Gardeners.

Speaker: Elaine Mills, Extension Master Gardener
Zoom session, recorded May 8, 2020

Video of Presentation

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 4:30 Pollination, pollinators, and their importance
  • 11:53 Plants for pollinators in small gardens
  • 34:24 Native Perennials
  • 49:37 Questions
  • 58:08 Best gardening practices in gardens
  • 1:09:50 Container gardening for pollinators
  • 1:27:50 Resources

Additional Resources

Small Space Gardening Resources – pdf

  • Plant lists
  • Best management practices
  • Special consideration for container gardening
  • Where to learn more
  • Where to see native plants
  • Where to buy native plants

Notes from the Presenter

Addendum: Additional Details and Answers to Chat Questions

MGNV - Sustainable Landscaping LogoAt the end of the presentation, I referred to the fact sheets on native plants created by Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia. The menu for our website (MGNV.ORG) has recently been revised. Look for “Plants” in the menu bar and then choose “Tried & True Native Plants for the Mid-Atlantic” from the pull down menu. It is further subdivided by plant type.

Gardeners in Northern Virginia are encouraged to join the Plant NoVA Natives campaign, a coalition of non-profit, governmental, and private groups working to reverse the decline of native plants and wildlife in Northern Virginia. Learn the details and see wonderful resources at

Gardeners in other regions of Virginia should refer to the Plant Virginia Natives website and download free, full-color copies of the guides appropriate for their regions of the state.

Maryland and Pennsylvania residents should find much of the information on the MGNV.ORG website relevant. For further information check out the website of the Maryland Native Plant Society and the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society

You can also check with your respective state and county cooperative extension offices.

I understand that there were participants from as far away as Ohio. You may want to consult with the native plant society for your region of the state.

For great information on flora and fauna of the DC region, check out the Capital Naturalist blogspot by Arlington County naturalist Alonso Abugattas. You can also follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

To see fabulous macro photos of bees and the native plants they use as pollen, nectar, and host plants, check out the gallery by bee expert Sam Droege of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

For practical information on attracting and supporting pollinators, refer to these books:

    • Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, The Xerxes Society, 2011.
    • Butterfly Gardening, The North American Butterfly Association, 2018.
    • Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, Heather Holm, 2014.
    • The Pollinator Victory Garden: How to Attract and Support, Bees, Beetles, Butterflies, Bats, and Other Pollinators, Kim Eierman, 2020.

At the beginning of the presentation, I referred to a joint study by Douglas W. Tallamy of the University of Delaware, his graduate student Desirée Narango, and Peter P. Marra of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. The conclusion of that study was that yards with a biomass of at least 70% native plants were necessary in order to support insects and the birds that use them for food. An online version of the research article providing details is here

Finally, to learn more about the important role gardeners can play in supporting all our wildlife, I highly recommend Tallamy’s classic book Bringing Nature Home and his newly published book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.