This pollinator garden in a trashcan project is from the new book, Container Gardening Complete: creative projects for growing vegetables and flowers in small spaces by Jessica Walliser. Come see how to grow this wonderful little garden to attract butterflies, bees, and more.
For more recommended DIY books, see 12 Books to Make Your Creative Garden Fabulous.
This excerpt from Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces by Jessica Walliser is used with permission from Quarto Publishing Group USA INC. who also provided a review copy of the book. Thank-you, Jessica, and Quarto.
Container Gardening Complete
How to Make a Pollinator Can
There are over 4,000 species of native bees in North America, and while supporting European honeybees is important, helping our native bees is even more so. Bees are responsible for pollinating more than $20 billion dollars of food crops each year, and many species are suffering from population declines due to pesticide exposure, diseases, and habitat loss. Even urban gardeners with small patio gardens or containers can provide important habitat for these insects.
If every homeowner and apartment dweller built a Pollinator Can like this one, what a huge difference we’d make!
Host plants are vital for the survival of species.
- Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)
- Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
- Bee balm
- Meadowsweet (Spirea alba)
- Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
- Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)
- Black-eyed Susans
- Globe thistle (Echinops spp.)
- Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.)
- Nepeta (Nepeta spp.)
- Large, 31-gallon galvanized trashcan
- Empty 5-gallon bucket
- Enough 50/50 potting soil and compost blend to fill the can
- 8 to 12 pollinator-friendly plants, selected from the list to the left
- 1 piece of untreated 2×4 lumber, 4 to 5 ft. long
- 30 to 50 natural bamboo garden stakes, 2 to 3 feet long
- 3 pieces of 2×6 lumber, 18-inch long. Cedar, redwood, or another untreated wood is best
- Wood glue
- 1 brick
- A small roll of aluminum hobby wire
- A piece of burlap, approximately 1-foot by 3-feet
- A roll of natural jute twine
- Scratch awl
- Pruning shears
- Wire cutter
- Cordless drill with 5/16-inch and 7/16-inch twist bits
Flip the trashcan upside down and hammer the awl through the bottom of the can in eight to ten places to create drainage holes. Turn the can back over and locate it where it will receive eastern or southeastern exposure on its front.
Related: Container Gardening Ideas | Plant lists, project ideas, creative planters
Place an upturned, empty 5-gallon bucket in the bottom of the trashcan. This will fill up some of the space and reduce the amount of potting soil/compost blend you’ll need.
Related: Tips for Bee-Friendly Gardening (Hint: No spraying!)
Stick one end of the 2×4 down in the can, propping it vertically between the 5-gallon bucket and the wall of the trashcan. Fill the can three-quarters of the way to the top with the potting soil blend, straightening the 2×4, if necessary.
Carefully slide the plants out of their pots and arrange them in the can, keeping the taller plants closest to the 2×4 and the shorter plants along the outer edge of the can. Once happy with the placement of plants, loosen any pot-bound roots and fill the spaces in between the plants with more potting mix until the container is filled to within an inch of the top. Leave a small, empty space somewhere close to the front edge of the can. Lay the brick in this space.
Build the bee nesting block by gluing the three pieces of 2×6-inch lumber together with wood glue. Allow the glue to dry for several hours, then drill holes into one cut end of the blocks, perpendicular to the wood’s grain. To encourage diversity, alternate hole sizes by using both the 5/16-inch drill bit and the 3/16-inch drill bit to make holes approximately 4 to 5-inch deep spaced about 3/4-inch apart. Do not drill all the way through the block as bees prefer to nest in closed-end tunnels. Place the drilled nesting block on top of the brick positioned among the plants. Make sure the holes are not blocked by any vegetation.
Next, lay the piece of burlap on the ground and place the bundle of bamboo stakes in the center of it. Use a pair of sharp pruners to cut the stakes to approximately 2-feet in length. Use the wire cutters to cut two 18-inch-long pieces of aluminum hobby wire. Wrap the wire around the bamboo stakes, one close to each end, to fasten them into a secure bundle. Roll the burlap around the center of the bundle and use a piece of natural jute twine to secure it in place.
Fasten the burlap-wrapped bundle of bamboo stakes to the top of the 2×4, using more jute twine. Make sure the stakes are parallel to the ground and fairly level. If any of the cut ends of the bamboo pieces are blocked with dried bamboo pulp, use the awl to clear out the debris and give the bees better access.
Care for you new Pollinator Can by watering the plants regularly. When winter arrives, do not cut the plants back or otherwise disturb them. Some species of native bees may take shelter in the plant debris for the winter. Instead, do your cleanup when spring arrives, and the weather is consistently warm. By then the bees will have emerged from their overwintering sites. You can also replace any plants that didn’t it through the winter at that time.
You’ll know the bees are using your nesting sites when the ends of the openings are sealed over with mud or plant debris. To prevent pathogens and predators from taking over your nesting sites, replace the wood nesting block and bamboo stakes every 2 years in the early summer, after the young bees have emerged and before new eggs are laid.
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|Horticulturalist Jessica Walliser cohosts The Organic Gardeners, an award-winning program on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh, PA. She is a former contributing editor for Organic Gardening magazine, and a regular contributor to many regional and national magazines, including Fine Gardening and Hobby Farms. Jessica also serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the American Horticultural Society.
Her two weekly gardening columns for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have been enjoyed by readers for more than ten years. Jessica’s fourth book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to the Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control, was awarded the American Horticultural Society’s 2014 Book Award. She is also a cofounder of the gardening website, SavvyGardening.com, and owner of Ironweed Apparel, a company that creates unique, hand-printed shirts for gardeners and urban farmers.