Garden Design Tips & Resources

You don’t need much room to create a pollinator destination! Every new plant helps, whether it’s a potted annual, a new tree or a native bush to replace a non-native.

If you have space, or want to add to your garden over time, consider including a variety of plants and trees to support many species of pollinators at different life stages They need:

  • pollen from blooming trees and bushes in early spring

  • pollen from flowers in summer

  • tree bark, leaf mulch, or dead stems for shelter in winter

  • plants and mulch (not lawn) under trees

General Tips:

  • Include larger groupings of flowers, so pollinators can easily find big targets of food. If your garden is too small for that, encourage your neighbors to try similar native plants. You can link up many small gardens to make one large one for pollinators.

  • Try to include plants that bloom at different times across the seasons, from early spring until late fall, so pollinators can always find food.

  • Planting a single tree will provide enormous ecological benefits, since our native tree species are hosts to hundreds of insect species, which in turn support birds and other animals.

  • If you have space, try to create layers of greenery that will sustain insects and animals through all their life stages: large trees, mid-size plants such as smaller trees and bushes and perennials.

Pollinator or native gardens can take many forms:

In a Sunny Area: Plant a succession of blooming perennials, massing clumps of several species next to each other for a soft meadow effect.

In a Woodland Scene: Plant under the shade of a mature tree, adding vertical layers of greenery with smaller trees such as redbuds or dogwood, then flowering bushes such as mountain laurel, with ferns and shade loving plants below.

Formal Design: Yes, native plants work well with formal designs, and fit beautifully into existing landscapes.

Avoid Using Pesticides and Herbicides: Even if you make no other changes to your existing plantings, avoid using pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and garden.

Choose Plants Suited to Your Site

Choosing wisely is key to success. You can either research plants online or get information from plant tags and experts at nurseries.

Find out:

  • How many hours of sun does your garden receive?

  • How damp is the soil? Some plants don’t mind the wet while others thrive in dry, harsh conditions.

  • How much space is available? Consider the exact square footage of your garden. Plants may look small at first, but within a year or two they take up far more room. At their mature size, the plants should not be crowded, but should just fill the space. This will give unwanted plants no space or light to grow between the desirable ones.

  • When buying plants from a nursery, purchase organic or pesticide-free plants; check that the plants are “neonic-free.” Neonicotinoids are a type of pesticide that will make the entire plant poisonous to pollinators.

Caring for Plants

  • Spring and fall are ideal times to plant, when roots are developing and less energy is being spent on leaf and flower production. Cool temperatures are also easier on new plantings.

  • Give plants a deep watering upon planting. For the first year they may need supplemental water. The beds may need weeding to suppress competition until the plants fill the space. Once established, rainwater should be sufficient except in unusually dry conditions.

  • It is not usually necessary to fertilize native plants. However, do mulch them, either with chopped fall leaves or, better yet, do not rake the intact leaves that happen to land around them. Approximately 3” of leaves will help retain moisture, protect plants in the cold, and provide cover and protection for pollinator insects and small animals. As the leaves degrade, their nutrients return to the soil.

  • Do not apply pesticides, as that will kill insects and defeat the purpose of the pollinator garden! Insect activity can be a good sign that local natives appreciate the food provided. If non-beneficial insects cause harm, it may be possible to treat them with non-toxic applications.

Local Sources for Native Plants

Avoid "treated" plants or seed which will contain pesticides.

Wild Gardens Nursery Cortlandt Manor, NY

Sales of native plants in May/June and September/October.

Rosedale Nurseries Hawthorne, NY

A good selection of native species, with informational signs on their needs and habits. Also offers landscaping design services.

Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center Yorktown Heights, NY

An organic farm and educational center that also offers native plants grown from locally harvested wild seed. Worth a visit!

Nature’s Cradle Eastchester

Carries natives and non-natives. Offers advice on organic practices and native plant landscaping.

Visit Wild-life friendly Garden Ideas

Nearby Native Plant Gardens for Inspiration:

Olivia’s Butterfly Garden The Nature Preserve on Archer Place, next to Tuckahoe Elementary School at intersection of Bronxville, Tuckahoe, and Eastchester. A beautiful border garden using pollinator plants. The Nature Preserve website lists the plants used in the garden.

The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College

Established native plant gardens demonstrate how natives can be used in a decorative way. Offers an annual spring plant sale and classes on native gardening at Go Native U.

New York Botanical Garden

Along with their beautiful, large native landscape area, the garden also offers many classes on native plants, ecology, and organic gardening.

Untermeyer Gardens Conservancy

Historic park overlooking the Hudson River in Yonkers, with trails through many gardens.

Greenburgh Nature Center

Has a native plant meadow, butterfly house, forest trails.

Old Croton Aqueduct Visitor Center & Kiosk

Recently installed pollinator garden just north of the trail at Walnut Street.

Lenoir Preserve

Recently restored wildflower meadows.

Motivation For Planting For Wildlife

By the National Wildlife Federation

Redefining Curb Appeal

Garden design is evolving towards a more natural look, which makes a big difference in water use for municipalities, and restores lost habitat to suburban areas.

Impact of Wildlife Gardens

Why it is important for homeowners to provide wildlife habitat. Several studies have shown the positive impact of residential gardens designed for wildlife on regional biodiversity.