Pollinator Health

We need pollinators…and they need us!

In the United States, pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds are responsible for 75 percent of our food supply. That is one of every three bites of food we eat! Pollinators are critical to our food supply and the plant diversity we find in nature, yet across the nation, they are disappearing.  

This is the case for bees – like the hundreds of species of native bees that pollinate so many of our food crops – as well as iconic species like the monarch butterfly. The good news is, we can help! Creating habitat for pollinators in your yard or school garden is one important action you can take to help them thrive.

Below is some information about the collaborative work we are involved with to support pollinator health.  

If you have questions about pollinators or would like to get involved with any of our program, email us at: pollinators@rcdsandiego.org 

San Diego Pollinator Alliance

The RCD is a founding member of the San Diego Pollinator Alliance (SDPA), a group of organizations and agencies working together to protect pollinators in San Diego County. Other members include Butterfly Farms, Sky Mountain Permaculture, the California Native Plant Society – San Diego Chapter, US Fish & Wildlife Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Earth Discovery Institute, River Partners, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and the San Diego Natural History Museum.  The SDPA aims to increase native pollinator habitat and awareness about pollinator-friendly practices throughout San Diego County through outreach, education, and on-the-ground programs.

See below for past SDPA newsletters, and subscribe here to receive them quarterly!

Creating Pollinator Habitat

The San Diego Pollinator Alliance has developed a series of native demonstration pollinator gardens across the county to give residents ideas on how to create pollinator habitat at home. Demonstration pollinator habitats have been planted a Sike’s Adobe within the San Dieguito River Park and the Los Jilgueros Preserve in Fallbrook, as well as at Lafayette Elementary and Scripps Ranch High School. We will soon be helping to install a pollinator garden at Chula Vista High School and within an HOA in San Marcos.

The SDPA hosts a thriving demonstration pollinator habitat at the San Diego County Fair called the Pollinator Pathway.  Built in 2015, it is now a permanent feature within the Fair’s Infield Farm. The Pollinator Pathway is open every day of the Fair (annually during June and early July). If you are visiting the Fair, stop by and learn about low water use, California native plants that provide essential habitat for our hardworking pollinators. The exhibit also features a butterfly free-flight house and a honey bee display. We are always open to hearing from schools or other sites that would like to host a demonstration habitat – please get in touch if you would like to get involved!

Other pollinator gardens to check out around San Diego County include:

  • A native plant garden at the edge of the Zoro Garden in Balboa Park
  • The pollinator garden at Lindo Lake Park in Lakeside
  • The pollinator garden at Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista

Do you want to attract beneficial pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds into your garden? Visit a garden for inspiration, but in the meantime here are some tips:

  • Include host plants, like native milkweed (the monarch’s host plant)
  • Grow flowering plants to provide nectar. Select plants that bloom at different times of the year to provide a continuous nectar source.
  • Create nesting habitat for native bees – leave some bare dirt patches for ground nesting bees or purchase an insect hotel.
  • Avoid pesticides!
  • Consider adding a water source.

Pollinator Garden Workshop series: In February and March, the SDPA hosted a series of three virtual workshops on creating pollinator gardens in back yards, school gardens, churches, or any other space you have access to. Several guest speakers / Pollinator Alliance members kindly contributed, including Dr Michael Wall of the San Diego Natural History Museum, Annika Nabors of the UC Cooperative Extension, Mary Duffy from Earth Discovery Institute, and Alden Hough from Sky Mountain Permaculture. Videos of each of the three workshops can be found here

Sign up for our school garden email newsletter to receive announcements about available resources, or reach out to us at pollinators@rcdsandiego.org to receive some free native milkweed seed grown with the San Diego Native Milkweed Project.

Pollinator Health Resources

Monarch and Pollinator Conservation:  

  • Butterfly Farms: Education and conservation organization and nursery all on one site. Come visit their butterfly free flight house and buy pollinator plants for your garden.  
  • Monarch Joint Venture: A national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration.  
  • Monarch Watch: A wealth of information about monarchs – creating habitat, citizen science, migration, biology, and more. 
  • The Xerces Society: An organization dedicated to the protection of wildlife through supporting invertebrates.  They offer information and resources about issues affecting pollinators and what you can do to help these vital insects, and their website has a section dedicated to conserving the Western Monarch.

Native Plant Resources

  • California Native Plant Society – San Diego Chapter: Organization dedicated to increasing understanding, appreciation and conservation of California’s fascinating variety of native plants in their natural environment and in horticultural settings. “Gardening with Natives” and “How-To Brochures” links on their website have lots of info on native plants and butterflies.  
  • Native West Nursery: A wholesale nursery specializing in growing California native plants. The nursery holds public plant sales four times per year.
  • Xerces Society – California Pollinator Plants: This guide from the Xerces Society includes information about the milkweeds native to California.
  • CalScape: Website where you can put in your address and learn about native plants that will do well in your area.
  • Check out this plant list from a demo garden that was hosted at the San Diego County Fair, and this host and nectar plant list for butterflies found throughout San Diego. 

Where to Buy Native Plants:  

Creating Pollinator Habitat

Citizen Science Programs

  • Journey North: A country-wide monarch monitoring program. Report your monarch sightings and check out their interactive map of sightings so far this year!  
  • Xerces Society: Offers two citizen science opportunities. Help collect data to monitor the status of overwintering monarchs along the California coast by participating in the West Monarch Count that takes place over Thanksgiving and the New Year. You can also contribute to efforts to better understand the breeding habitat of monarchs by entering your monarch and milkweed sightings through the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper.
  • Monarch Citizen Science programs: An overview of monarch citizen science contributions and programs across the United States, including information on how to get involved.  (link to document title Monarch citizen science overview)
  • RCD Milkweed for Monarchs iNaturalist project: Join this project and contribute observations of monarchs in your gardens. 


Our partners at Earth Discovery Institute created this lovely video about native milkweed

Monarch Butterfly Tag and Release Event

Monarch Butterfly “Tag-and-Release” Event: North County students and elected officials enjoy a chance to get up close with Monarch Butterflies at this fun and informative event hosted by Butterfly Farms, the RCD, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.