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Create a Pollinator Habitat in the City

Updated: May 21

All the resources from our virtual workshop!


See the video below for the recording of our "Create a Pollinator Habitat in the City" workshop on May 20th, 2020 co-hosted with the National Wildlife Federation.



Here are guides to design your pollinator garden in your home or at a school:

Find native plants for your region that provide food and shelter for pollinators:

You can get involved in citizen science projects and contribute to documenting pollinators in your area:


Q&A from the May 20, 2020 virtual workshop:


Q: Are there guidelines for schools and community gardens right now during COVID in NYC?


For community gardens, GreenThumb has guidelines. Community garden access is limited to gardeners only for maintenance until the restrictions on gatherings are lifted in NYC.


For school gardens, the DOE has not issued anything official at this point in time. Access to gardens is largely dependent on where the garden is located (i.e. an interior courtyard or classroom versus a street-facing garden with a combination lock) and the principal’s discretion regarding access to the building.


Q: Can you explain how honeybees are “managed” or “domesticated bees”?

  1. Most honeybees are domestic or semi-domestic because humans raise them, breed them for certain genetics, and use them for agricultural purposes (such as large-scale pollination of farms or honey production). Most honeybee colonies rely on humans to survive.

Q: What types of flies do not pollinate?

  1. That’s a tough question because there are nearly 100,000 species of flies! This page does a nice job of discussing flies as pollinators. “At least seventy-one of the 150 (Evenhuis et al. 2008) Diptera families include flies that feed on flowers as adults.”

Q: When humans pollinate by hand, is that known as mechanical pollination?

  1. Yes. Mechanical pollination can be very labor intensive (and expensive). Bees and other pollinators are much more efficient.

Q: How do honeybees cause disease in the environment?

  1. Honey bees can transmit diseases to wild bees. Honey bee hives are often affected with viruses, parasites, and other pathogens. Here’s an article and a longer research synopsis that states that honey bees can transmit diseases when they interact with shared flowers.

Q: What native ground cover do you suggest?

  1. For shady sites, try Wild Ginger for interesting flowers and fly pollinators. Sedges can be intermixed with creeping phlox and woodland phlox for a beautiful effect. Allegheny pachysandra, wild strawberry, foam flowers are a few other suggestions.

Q: You recommended leaving water out for pollinators, but can't that also encourage mosquitoes?

  1. Mosquito larva need a few days in the water before they can hatch, so as long as you empty your water dish every two days and refill it with fresh water, you won’t be encouraging mosquitos. Here’s a blog post with other deterrents.

Q: How can people in apartments without garden space get creative about making pollinator habitats?

  1. Window boxes are a great design! They are relatively shallow, so use plants that don’t need as much depth. Good options are Woodland phlox (phlox divaricata), wild geraniums, wild petunias. There a few non-native plants that attract bees that also do well in shallow containers: Catmint (nepeta), Calamintha, zinnias. If you let culinary herbs flower, they often attract pollinators: mint, chives, lavender, or dill come to mind.

Q: What plants should I plant in street tree beds for pollinators?

  1. Street tree beds are a tough spot for native wildflowers to live so choose tough plants that can tolerate compacted soil, salt, dog waste, and people. They should also be watered regularly, mulch will help. Wild geranium or Columbines may grow there. If you enrich the soil with compost, Foam flowers may survive. Wild ginger is a ground cover with very interesting flowers (pollinated by flies!), Pennsylvania sedge (which is native but doesn't attract pollinators) is tough and tolerant of dry shade.

Q: Tricks for getting milkweed seeds to grow?

  1. They require a cold period in order to germinate. You can try direct sowing some in the Fall, and keep track of where they should emerge in the Spring. People have also seen success by keeping the seeds in the freezer for a month and then the fridge for two weeks, and then planting in the ground in early spring.

Q: Is there a way to discourage predatory insects like wasps?

  1. Predatory insects may not necessarily be harmful in the garden! Is there a particular insect species that it preys upon? Keep in mind that wasps need to eat too! And they can be a welcome addition to gardens because they may prey upon certain plant pests like aphids. Are they a nuisance to people? We can usually coexist peacefully in a garden setting (although certain foods may attract them) but a nest could be problematic.

Q: Are most native plants perennials?

  1. Yes, the majority of native wildflowers are perennials. However, some common species are biennials or short-lived perennials. Black eyed susans are one that come to mind; although short-lived, they can remain in garden settings for a long time because they reproduce easily by seed.

Q: What shady plants do you recommend?

  • Here’s a good list from NYC Parks

  • Wild Geranium | Geranium maculatum

  • Wild Columbine | Aquilegia canadensis

  • Wild ginger

  • Virginia Bluebells

  • Wild Bleeding Heart | Dicentra eximia

  • Phlox divaricata (Blue Moon)

  • Foam Flower | Tiarella cordifolia

  • Calico Aster

  • White wood aster

  • Pennsylvania sedge | Carex pensylvanica

Q: Where can I buy native plants or compost?


Native Plants: Local nurseries (suggest calling ahead to inquire about stock)- Gowanus Canal Conservancy Salt Lot, Greenbelt Native Plant Center (Staten Island) upon request, Urban Garden Center (Harlem), Chelsea Garden Center (Red Hook & Williamsburg, Brooklyn), Crest Hardware (Greenpoint, Brooklyn carries natives from local nurseries). To call and place orders: Long Island Natives, North Creek, Pleasant Run, Sunset Farmstead (specializing in pollinator-friendly plants), Toadshade Wildflowers.


Compost: NYC Compost Project (not sure of status now but contact them https://earthmatter.org/compost-learning-center/compost-distribution/), Red Hook Farm in Brooklyn has free pick-up, or buy at any home garden store like Lowe’s or Home Depot - in person or mail order now (suggest only organic varieties), local composting groups like BK Rot sell compost https://www.bkrot.org/, make your own if you have the space.



For even more pollinator content, check out our Pollinators bolg post and see what we're growing in our Teaching Garden on Governor's Island for our fuzzy friends.



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