Sustainable Urban Design: Educator’s Toolkit for Project-Based Learning, page 10 of 20

A native bee on a ragwort flower
A native bee on a ragwort flower at Griffith Prairie in Nebraska. © Chris Helzer/TNC

Creating Urban Habitats: Pollinator Gardens

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and even bats are critical to the successful functioning of an ecosystem. Approximately 80% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. We can thank pollinators for the numerous types of fruits and vegetables we eat every day—at least 1/3 of the world’s crops depend on pollinators for their survival.

Planting a pollinator garden can help support pollinator populations, which in turn supports the rest of the organisms in the ecosystem that depend on fruits for nutrition. Additionally, pollinators can be fun to watch and provide additional learning opportunities for students! Students can study the relationship between plant structure and function and their associated pollinators (like how red, tubular flowers attract hummingbirds). They can also conduct habitat biodiversity surveys to compare and contrast the organisms found in various environments. Websites like Nature Works Everywhere, eBird, and Habitat Network also allow students to record their data online and contribute to a larger body of observations around the world!

Get Started

  1. Develop a planting and sustainability plan.
    • What type of pollinators are you hoping to attract?
    • Where are you going to plant?
    • What are the light and soil conditions in the areas?
    • Do you need to amend the soil?
    • What size of plants can the location support?
    • What is the best time of year for planting in your area?
    • Where is the nearest water source? How will you water the plants?
    • How will you ensure long-term maintenance of the garden throughout the school year and over vacations or breaks?
    • Do you need permission from administrators? Groundskeepers?
    • Check to see if your school district Grounds Department has an approved allergen-free plant list that they adhere to for landscaping.
    • Are there utilities that you need to locate before digging?
  2. Determine your ecoregion and use an ecoregional planting guide to identify plants in your area that are pollinator friendly.
  3. Find a local nursery dedicated to stocking native plants.
  4. Seek out community organizations that might be willing to assist and/or share their expertise with your classroom.
  5. Determine the equipment and supplies you’ll need. Use a budget calculator to help determine expenses.
  6. Determine what permissions you’ll need for planting and notify parents so that students can dress appropriately. Consider any safety precautions you should take on planting day.
  7. Determine if you’ll need volunteers to help with planting day and if you’ll need help bringing the plants and supplies to your location.
  8. Have a planting party and be sure to document your project with photos! Have students send a press release to local newspapers to educate the community about pollinator gardens and the community event.

Common Challenges

  • Getting permission from school boards and maintenance staff
  • Finding an appropriate area
  • Watering though the summer

Maintenance Schedule and Other Notes

  • Watering typically needs to take place during the summer (when the kids are not in school). Connection to the irrigation system may be necessary.
  • Weeding at least 3 or 4 times a year.
  • Plants may need to be cut back or replaced. A biannual assessment is recommended.
  • Adding mulch to the garden yearly.

Related Lessons and Classroom Integration

Additional Project Resources