Choosing the right plant material is a good start for a pollinator-friendly landscape. Since pollen is the main food source for pollinators, knowing the bloom time and making sure those flowering times overlap and extend through the growing season is also important.
Early season bloomers flower January into April. They are essential to pollinators in late winter and early spring, since some pollinators emerge and begin searching for nectar and pollen as early as January. Diversity is important since bloom times can vary greatly from one year to another, especially with current weather trends and climate change.
A good choice for very early bloom is native or hybridized witchhazel (Hamamelis). Its fragrance and showy color, in contrast to other plants in the winter landscape, lure in the pollinators that emerge this time of the year. Another early native shrub is Missouri River willow, Salix eriocephala, which blooms in February and produces excellent pollen for bees to make into high grade honey.
Spring is early this year, so native Juneberry (Amelanchier), dogwood, redbud, cherry and plum may also be blooming in time for early-emerging pollinators. Fruit trees in general are great for pollinators.
A native March-blooming perennial is pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens. It’s a great source for early-emerging bumble bees as an alternative to daffodils and tulips. Pasque flowers track the sun throughout the day while providing a generous amount of pollen and a warm place for pollinators to explore.
Snowdrops, squill, and grape and regular hyacinth are all perennial plants grown from bulbs that give bees and other native pollinators a fresh source of nectar and pollen in late winter, sprouting up even if snow or ice is on the ground. Snowdrops and squill will naturalize over time and create a nice carpet. These early-blooming plants can be mixed in with perennials, or even turfgrass, that emerge later in the season.
Brunnera, Brunnera macrophylla, a non-native with delicate blue flowers, blooms for a long period beginning in April. It is an excellent shade plant with many different varieties to choose from, including the variegated Jack Frost. Brunnera mainly attracts bees, but other types of moths and flies will also pay the tiny blue flowers a visit.
Lungwort, Pulmonaria saccharata, begins blooming in April in shady or wooded areas. Pollinators tend to prefer the early, pink-toned flowers which typically have more pollen and nectar than the later, blue blossoms.
Whatever you choose to plant this spring, here are some options for early pollinators. Maintaining landscapes that have a diversity of flowering plants will encourage pollinators to return year after year.
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources at http://arboretum.unl.edu.