hummingbird birdbath

Water and Shelter for Pollinators

All living creatures need water to survive. They use it for:

  • Hydrating
  • Cleansing
  • Moderating body temperature
  • Reproducing

If you are not fortunate enough to have a pond or stream near your garden, you can create an adequate water source by including one of the following:

  • Bird bath, fountain or water garden
  • Puddling area for butterflies and bees
  • Small container or saucer of water
  • Hanging water bottle that slowly drips

Mason bees use a puddling dish to make mud for their nests. It is helpful to sprinkle some fine sand in the dish and locate it in a sunny area where it will be easy to locate. All artificial water sources need frequent cleaning and refilling every 2-3 days.

In order to meet the application requirements, there must be one of these water sources:

  • Birdbath or shallow water source
  • Butterfly puddling area
  • Water garden / Pond
  • Stream or spring

A supportive ecosystem must also include various kinds of shelter for pollinators. These are needed to:

  • Facilitate reproduction and egg laying
  • Provide cover from harsh elements, predators and pesticides
  • Provide a place for food storage
  • Provide a place for overwintering

Shelters for Nesting

Creating nesting sites for all types of nesters is crucial to establish a diverse habitat. Most insects reproduce by laying eggs, which hatch into caterpillars or grubs. Eggs are laid on native host plants or in underground spaces. Some insects prefer rock piles or walls.

The majority of specialist bees are ground-nesting, solitary bees. They are attracted to bare, undisturbed patches of soil. They choose a site near the plants they prefer because they have short foraging ranges. Their nests are an elaborate construction of tunnels and “brood cells” - one for each baby bee with food storage. After bees have nested, it is wise to place stones or small sticks near the entrance to the nest. This will help bees be oriented to the nest locale and keep the area safe from tilling and pesticide application.

Most wasps are solitary and nest in the ground, but some use rotten wood, hollow logs, crevices or hollow stems for their nests. Adults live on a liquid diet from flower nectar, sap, juice from rotten fruit, but feed their larvae insects, which they hunt and kill.

There are only five specialist bees known to New York which are above–ground cavity nesters: the leaf-cutter bee, the mason bees (Osmis chalybea, Osmia distincta, and Osmia virga) and resin bees. Wood-resting bees reside in previously made tunnels in snags, wood piles or in plants with hollow, pithy stems. They need to partition their tunnels with mud or plant fibers. They rely on water sources near bare ground and plant debris to do this. If a wood pile is not possible, wood-nesting bees can be attracted to man-made houses, which contain bamboo shoots or dead, hollow reed stems.

Shelters for Overwintering

Most pollinators do not migrate for the winter and need adequate protection from northern elements. The single most effective way to provide that is to let Mother Nature do her work. Let leaves fall where they may in the garden and transfer raked leaves from the lawn into the garden for additional mulch. The current recommended practice for fall garden clean-up is “less is more effective.” An aggressive housekeeping approach inadvertently destroys valuable overwintering sites and disrupts the food web.

Leaf litter and faded plants provide an insulated shelter for beneficial insects, bumblebees, and 70% of bees who burrow into the ground. These are the earliest to emerge in spring and are vital pollinators of many early-blossoming fruit trees. The litter is also critical because it provides pupation sites for the caterpillars of moths that birds will seek in the spring to feed their young. If you need to cut back taller perennials, leave the bottom foot or two. The stems of goldenrod, blackberry, and elderberry and other pithy plants are ideal nesting chambers for those bees which lay their eggs in cavities, like mason and carpenter bees. A pile of sticks and rocks in an obscure area of the garden can act as a safe overwintering site. Dead wood is another secure winter site, especially for beetles.

In order to meet the application requirements, there must be three of these shelters:

  • Spaces of bare ground
  • Man-made boxes
  • Rock pile / Wall
  • Dead wood debris
  • Leave garden cleanup until spring


Last updated May 10, 2021