Planting for Pollinators

“All urban greenspaces offer potential for pollinators, and all can become important links in a chain of wildlife habitat winding through developed land. At the most basic level, healthy greenspaces mean healthy people and healthy communities. And at the core of a healthy environment are the pollinators.” –excerpt from the book, Attracting Native Pollinators by The Xerces Society

Concern for pollinators, particularly bees, is widespread. Whether you pay attention to the news or not, you are most likely aware that something is up. The bees are disappearing and no one seems to know why. Of course, most of the news concerning dying bees is in reference to honey bees, largely because they are major agricultural pollinators and producers of honey. But there are two things that many people may not be aware of: 1. Honey bees are not native to North America – they were brought over from Europe by early settlers – and 2. North America is replete with native pollinators (including numerous species of bees, butterflies, beetles, and wasps) and they, too, are threatened (partly due to non-native honey bees, but we won’t get into that here). Oh, and there is a third thing, we do know why bees and other pollinators are disappearing, and it’s not because of cell phone towers or other wacky ideas that have been proposed.

Actually, pollinator decline is due to a whole suite of things. As much as we like to seek out the silver bullet – the single cause with a single solution that will solve the problem – this issue (like so many others) does not have one. Habitat degradation and loss, the spread of pests and diseases, extensive pesticide use, and climate change all play a role in pollinator decline. Consider a modern day farm: acres and acres of a single crop planted from one edge of the field to the other, often planted with an herbicide resistant variety of crop so that all plants (both weedy and non-weedy) can be sprayed and killed leaving only the crop in question to grow competitor free. Or consider an urban landscape: patchy green space amidst miles and miles of pavement, concrete, and rooftops, and when that green space occurs, it is often a chemical green lawn free of weeds or a flower bed loaded with non-native ornamentals, bred for aesthetic appeal and often lacking in wildlife value. Our modern landscapes just aren’t fit for pollinators.

But things can change. The problem is complex, but there are small things each of us can do that when added up can make a colossal difference. Creating pollinator friendly habitats in our communities – spaces that are free from pesticides and include diverse food sources and nesting sites – can help ensure that pollinators will survive and thrive. Here are a few guidelines and resources to help you create pollinator habitat in your yard or neighborhood:

– Find a sunny location: Pollinators are most active when it is warm, so find areas that get at least 6-8 hours of full sun (just like you would if you were planning a vegetable garden).

Plant a wide variety of plants: Something should always be in bloom during the growing season, so select at least 3 plants that flower in each of the 3 blooming periods (spring, summer, and fall). Early spring bloomers and fall bloomers are especially important. Also, in order to attract a wide range of pollinators, select plants with varying heights and growth habits and that have flowers of various colors, shapes, and sizes.

– Plant in clusters: On each foraging trip, bees visit the flowers of a single plant species, so plant each species in small clumps.

-Provide nesting sites and a water source: Bumble bees nest at the bases of bunchgrasses, so include a warm season bunchgrass like little bluestem in your yard. Ground nesting bees require a section of bare ground, so lay off on the mulch. Construct and install bundles of hollow stems (like bamboo or elderberry) in order to provide nesting sites for mason bees. Also, include a birdbath or something with a ledge for pollinators to perch and drink.

There are many resources that can instruct you on providing habitat for pollinators. One standout is The Xerces Society. They are “a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.” Their website is loaded with information: specific plant recommendations by region, instructions on how to provide habitat for certain pollinators, alternatives to pesticides, etc. You can even help them by becoming a citizen scientist. Other excellent resources include Monarch Watch and The Great Sunflower Project.

attracting-native-pollinators1

“Simple decisions about selecting plants, providing nest sites, minimizing disturbance, and reducing pesticides can make a dramatic difference between a green, manicured, but lifeless landscape, and one that teems with the color, energy, and life of buzz-pollinating bumble bees, rapidly dashing hummingbird moths, and busy nest-building leafcutter bees.” –excerpt from Attracting Native Pollinators by The Xerces Society

Stay tuned for future posts about pollinators, including pollinator conservation and specific pollinator and plant interactions. Also, comment below to share what you are doing to help pollinators in your community. 

Related Posts:

In the News: Declining Insect Populations

Figs and Fig Wasps

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5 thoughts on “Planting for Pollinators

  1. Pingback: Ground Nesting Bees in the Garden | awkward botany

  2. Pingback: Year of Pollination: Hellstrip Pollinator Garden | awkward botany

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