From the Garden: Pollinators in the Garden

By Erin Breglia

Spring has sprung, and short­ly so will the gar­den! Once warmer tem­per­a­tures hit, gar­den­ers will instinc­tive­ly want to tidy up the beds, remov­ing fall­en debris and left­over leaf lit­ter. But wait! Sev­er­al ben­e­fi­cial insects have prob­a­bly made their home in the debris, so wait until tem­per­a­tures are con­sis­tent­ly above 50° F in order to con­serve rapid­ly declin­ing pol­li­na­tor species.

What is a pol­li­na­tor’? Pol­li­na­tors are birds, ani­mals, or insects that move pollen from the male anther of one flower to the female stig­ma of anoth­er as they search for nec­tar and pro­tein rich pollen. The pri­ma­ry pol­li­na­tors in our region are bees, but­ter­flies, bee­tles, flies, moths, and birds such as the ruby throat­ed hum­ming­bird.

Why do pol­li­na­tors mat­ter?
It is known that 80% of all flow­er­ing plants rely on pol­li­na­tors for sur­vival, includ­ing those we depend on as sources of fibers, bev­er­ages, spices, med­i­cines, and most impor­tant­ly, food. One out of every three bites of food we eat is made pos­si­ble by a pol­li­na­tor. Some crops, such as apples, blue­ber­ries and cher­ries, are 90% depen­dent on hon­ey­bee pol­li­na­tion. Increased yields and high­er qual­i­ty crops are also ben­e­fits that grow­ers and con­sumers real­ize from a healthy pol­li­na­tor pop­u­la­tion.

How to encour­age and con­serve pol­li­na­tors.
Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the overuse of chem­i­cals, loss of habi­tat, and pol­lu­tants have cre­at­ed a dev­as­tat­ing decline in many pol­li­na­tor species. To reverse this trend many peo­ple are sup­port­ing pol­li­na­tors by cre­at­ing a safe habi­tat for them in the form of small back yard gar­dens. By grow­ing a vari­ety of flow­er­ing plants in large drifts, you can attract many dif­fer­ent pol­li­na­tors. Bees tend to pre­fer flow­ers, such as yel­low dan­de­lions, that they can walk on to sip nec­tar. But­ter­flies and moths need a place to land on the flow­ers that they vis­it, so they pre­fer broad, flat-faced flow­ers. Hav­ing brush piles, wood­piles, and areas of undis­turbed soil near­by will also encour­age pol­li­na­tors to seek refuge and shel­ter in your yard.

Plants that pol­li­na­tors love.
There is a strong cor­re­la­tion between plant diver­si­ty and pol­li­na­tor diver­si­ty. Many plants in the mint and car­rot fam­i­ly pro­duce an abun­dance of nec­tar. Easy to grow plants such as dill, Queen Anne’s lace, rue, and spearmint also pro­vide essen­tial nutri­ents. Native peren­ni­als such as the native bee balm or wild berg­amot (Monar­da fis­tu­losa), but­ter­fly weed (Ascle­pias tuberosa), and cone­flower (Echi­nacea angus­ti­fo­lia) are pol­li­na­tor sta­ples. These flow­er­ing plants will con­tin­ue to attract pol­li­na­tors to your gar­den year after year and need lit­tle maintenance.

Spring 2020

Volume 38 , Number 1

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