School pollinator gardens

Beautify your school garden, support wildlife and outdoor education by installing a pollinator garden.

Pollinator gardens can and should be an important component of the school garden.  Pollination is often the very beginning of the food system, and, therefore, foundational content for all those that eat, including students.  Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world's crops and a significant majority of our wild plants to thrive.  Without pollinators, many plants—including some food crops—would die off.      

Pollinator gardens are populated by native flowering plants that provide food, cover, nesting and resting places to our native pollinators and beneficial insects.  Native plants are plants that were in this region before European settlement.  Our native wildlife – including pollinators – have co-evolved with these plants over time and are ecologically linked to, and often dependent on them. 

For example, each species of butterfly can only lay its eggs and their caterpillars can only feed on a specific plant or group of plants.  A well-known example of this dependence is between the Monarch butterfly and milkweed plants.  The Monarch will only lay its eggs and its caterpillars can only feed on the milkweed group of plants in the Asclepias genus.  Without the milkweed, Monarchs cannot lay their eggs and complete their life cycle.  The same relationship holds for the Karner Blue butterfly and lupine plants.  These life cycles are easily observed in real time for a hands-on lesson in a pollinator garden with native milkweeds and/or lupines.    

For more information on specific butterflies and their larval host plants, see Michigan’s Butterflies and Skippers: A Field Guide and Reference by Mogens C. Nielsen or visit Wildtype Nursery’s Butterfly Plant List.

Our most familiar pollinator is the honey bee, which was introduced by Europeans in the 1600s.  However, Michigan has many native bee species that play important pollinator roles in both agricultural crops and wild plants.

Many of our native bees are generalists, meaning they feed on whatever flowering resources are available.  However, some of our native bees are specialists, and they only collect pollen from a few closely related plant species or a particular group of plants. Installing the native plants utilized by these specialist native bees in your pollinator garden can increase your chances of observing the unique behavior of these Michigan bees.  For more information on Michigan native bees, see MSU Extension Bulletin E3282 Bees of the Great Lakes region and wildflowers to support them available at the MSU Extension Bookstore.

Many of these native plants have attractive flowers that can help beautify your school garden while providing functional habitat and ecology lessons.  So help support wildlife, outdoor education and your vegetable garden by installing a pollinator garden.

Finally, June is National Pollinator Month, and Kids Gardening offers a pollinator activity kit and lesson plans.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension and the staff in the Community Food Systems Workgroup who support Farm to School activities including school gardens.  For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, see http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).


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