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.