Bet you didn’t know that last week was National Pollinator Week. I have to admit, I didn’t know either. But while we may be a bit late to the party, it’s not too late to get a piece of the action.
Pollinators are critical to our environment. For the fruit and seeds of plants to develop, pollen has to be transferred between two flowers of the same species which fertilizes it and enables the production of seeds. This is the work of pollinators. Without them, there would be no seed production and plants could not naturally reproduce. And US agriculture would be in serious trouble – and so would all of us. It is estimated that at least a third of the crops grown for food in the United States require pollination, and 80 percent of all flowering plants rely on pollinators for survival.
Honeybees are probably the most well-known pollinators. These little buggers are responsible for the production of more than $19 billion in food crops each year. But they don’t go it alone; bats, birds, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and even small mammals are all pollinators.
Today scientists are waving a red flag, concerned about the serious threats to pollinators and their habitats. As native vegetation is replaced by roadways, manicured lawns, crops and non-native gardens, pollinators lose the food and nesting sites that are necessary for their survival. Many pollinators are migratory – and increased development means they have to travel further and further to reach their destination, putting stress on the pollinator and in cases, threatening their survival.
Another concern is the overuse and improper application of pesticides, which kills both plants and pollinators. Pesticides are used in nearly every home, business, farm, school, hospital and park in the United States and are found almost everywhere in our environment.
We can take steps in our own yards, gardens, and neighborhoods, to create pollinator-friendly habitats, which can help to enable and sustain healthy populations of these critters that are crucial to our own survival.
A pollinator garden can be grown just about anywhere – from pots and flower boxes, to flowerbeds and meadows. Pollinators are attracted to flowers by their color and scent, not by where they are planted.
Choose plants that flower at different times of the year to provide nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season. Plant in clumps (3 or more of each plant) rather than a single plant to better attract pollinators. Go with a variety of flower colors and shapes to attract different pollinators. Flowers with bright colors, especially blue, yellow, red, and violet are attractive to pollinators, and during the night, flowers’ fragrances are alluring.
Whenever possible, choose native plants. Native plants will attract more native pollinators and can serve as larval host plants for some species of pollinators.
But regardless of the origin of the plants, whenever possible choose the “old-fashioned” varieties. Many varieties have been bred to look and smell more attractive to us, but in the process they have been stripped of accessible nectar and pollen.
Pollinators need water for survival and providing a source of water for them in your yard means they don’t have to travel as far to get a drink. This reduces their stress and increases the time available for pollination. A bird bath or dish of water set in a shady area is all that’s needed. Give insects a place to land – place corks that will float on the surface or rocks that provide a surface just above water level. Cleaning and refilling the water bowl on a regular basis will help keep it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.
Keep a few areas of your yard “wild” – such as along a hedge row or other edge habitat that isn’t heavily used. This allows pollinators to make their homes without being disturbed.
Overzealous pesticide use, especially in yards in urban areas, contributes to the decline of pollinators, so applying any sort of pesticide should be done sparingly, and only after researching what the least-harmful varieties are for your situation. Use these products only when necessary, use the minimum amount required to be effective.
Ready to throw a pollinator party? Here are a few pollinator-attracting flowers that do well in our area:
+ Bee balm
+ Black Eye Susan
+ Cardinal flower
+ Mint (best planted in a container!)
+ Shasta Daisy