Photography ©Mollie Parsons.

Pollinator Gardens

Safe Places for Insects and Birds

by Mollie Parsons

A colorful, textured garden is a pleasure for humans, but it also provides a vital habitat for our local pollinators. As you are planning your Santa Fe garden, keep native fauna in mind. In New Mexico we are lucky to have a diverse population of pollinators, including birds, bees, moths, butterflies and other beneficial insects that visit our outdoor spaces.

The City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County support the health of bees and other pollinators by recognizing their importance to the overall sustainability of our ecosystem. In 2020, the county adopted a pollinator protection resolution, urging residents to create pollinator-friendly yards.  In March, 2021, the Santa Fe City Council voted to make Santa Fe a Bee City USA site, making it part of an initiative that works to galvanize communities to sustain pollinators. To have a truly pollinator-friendly city, though, we all have a part to play.

Here are some easy steps you can take to make your garden a pollinator-friendly habitat:

  • Avoid pesticides that might inadvertently harm beneficial insects. Clean birdbaths regularly and change water daily to avoid spreading disease.
  • Create a water source for insects using a shallow dish filled with pebbles.
  • Add a little sugar, salt or rotting fruit to encourage butterflies.
  • Build native bee homes by drilling six-inch-deep holes in untreated wood.
  • Leave leaf litter undisturbed to provide overwintering protection.

Our local nurseries sell a wide variety of native plants that feed pollinators through their foliage, nectar and pollen. Plant these natives in late spring, before the summer heat becomes too intense. Consider the shape, color, size and blooming season of flowers to offer options to different insects and birds. For example, moths prefer white flowers that bloom at night, while hummingbirds like red tubular flowers.

A butterfly on milkweed
Native to North and South America, the queen butterfly is attracted to milkweed. Photography ©Mollie Parsons.
A bee on a flower
When a bee lands on a flower, the hairs on its body attract pollen grains. Photography ©Olivia Carril.

Here are some recommendations from Steve Cary, local butterfly expert, and Dr. Olivia Carril, native bee scientist:

  • Beeplant, Cleome serrulate — Tall stems offer purple flowers to bees and butterflies.
  • Blanket flowers, Gaillardia pulchella or other species — Red to yellow long-lasting flowers attract bees and other insects.
  • Coneflowers, Rudbeckia laciniata or other species — Long-blooming, small ray flower heads in warm colors attract bees.
  • Globemallow, Sphaeralceas sp. — Orange blooms attract a variety of insects.
  • Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa or any milkweed — Milkweed provides the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars.
  • Mintleaf bergamont, Monarda fistulosa menthifolia — Fragrant foliage with purple flowers draw bees and butterflies.
  • New Mexico thistle, Cirsium neomexicanum or other native thistle — Attractive, spiky grey foliage; purple flowers attract butterflies.
  • Penstemons, Penstemon sp. — Available in a variety of colors and shapes, but purple to blue shades encourage bees, and tubular red flowers draw hummingbirds.
  • Sunflowers, Helianthus sp. — The large flower heads attract bees, and the seeds are a favorite of fall foraging birds.

Dr. Carril encourages us to get to know our local pollinators, noting that there are over 1,000 species of native bees in New Mexico. “They pollinate not only the majority of New Mexico’s incredible wildflowers but also the fruits and vegetables in your garden,” she says. “As urbanization happens, many of our native bees have been displaced, making it even more important to provide habitat. Moreover, [native] bees are beautiful, charming, harmless and fascinating to watch!”

So have fun enhancing the habitat outside your door. Besides enjoying the beauty of the flowers, you will have an entire world of pollinators to enjoy.

Additional Resources

  • Santa Fe County Pollinator Habitat Resolution
  • and – Information about pollinators and improving their habitat. Bee City USA is an initiative of the Xerces Society, nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates considered essential to biological diversity and ecosystem health.
  • – Free downloadable guides to pollinator plants by region and pollinator type

Where to Buy Supplies Locally

Agua Fria Nursery
1409 Agua Fria St

McCumber Fine Gardens
86 Old Las Vegas Hwy

Newman’s Nursery
7501 Cerrillos Road

Payne’s Nurseries
304 Cam Alire (North) & 715 St. Michaels Drive (South)
505-988-8011 (North) & 505-988-9686 (South)

Plants of the Southwest 
3095 Agua Fria St

Waterwise Gardening
2902A Rufina St

Mollie Parsons

Mollie Parsons is an environmental educator with Cerise Consulting. After earning degrees from Brown University and Harvard Graduate School of Education, she taught in schools and nonprofits for fifteen years before starting her own business. Mollie has received national recognition for her work in interpretation, education and collective impact


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