Growing Green: Helping pollinators
Right now pollinators need our help. Most people know that the European honeybee suffers from colony collapse disorder, but fewer are aware that many native pollinators are declining, including bumblebees, one of our best pollinators.
The reason for the decline is complex. As more and more land is developed for housing and commerce, we lose plants that are vital sources of nectar and pollen. We also lose places for bees to nest. Disease and parasites have entered the picture. And lastly, we apply pesticides to our landscapes that are harmful to pollinators.
Pollination, the transfer of pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma of the same or another flower, is vital to our food supply. Insects and animals are a key element in facilitating this transfer. One of every three bites of food comes to us by pollinators.
You can help pollinators, who will in turn, provide the pollination needed to protect our plant diversity and food sources.
The first step is to provide food for the pollinators. Native plants are the heart of a pollinator-friendly garden. Research shows that native plants are four times more attractive to pollinators than non-natives, so planting natives in your yard will supply pollinators with the nutrition they need to thrive.
Natives are also well adapted to survive in a particular geographic area according to climate, soils, rainfall and availability of pollinators and seed dispersers. And because they are indigenous to a specific region, native plants usually require little maintenance and are welcomed by wildlife, serving an important role in the local ecosystem.
Here are some tips to help the pollinators:
Avoid modern hybrid flowers:Especially avoid those with “double” flowers. Often, plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the “perfect” blooms for us.
Include larval host plants:If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants that are food for their larvae. The caterpillars will eat them, so place plants where leaf damage can be tolerated.
Provide a water source:Pollinators need water for drinking and reproduction. If you do not have a natural source on your property, add a birdbath. Mud puddles also provide important minerals for pollinators, including butterflies.
Provide shelter:Bumblebees and many solitary bees nest in the ground and need open patches of bare soil. Dead wood provides nesting areas for a variety of pollinators, so leave a snag or place a log in the landscape. Pollinators need places to overwinter. Instead of cleaning up your garden in the fall, wait until late spring (except for diseased plant materials, which should be removed and destroyed).
Safeguard pollinator habitat:Avoid planting invasive species that have escaped cultivation and are endangering plants in our natural areas. Invasive plants include species such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), burning bush (Euonymus alatus), and autumn olive (Elaeagnus augustifolia). Even the popular butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is considered invasive in areas where it is reseeding along roadsides and trails.
Reduce pesticide use:Pesticides do not distinguish between pests and pollinators. Using fewer and less toxic pesticides will also protect beneficial insects such as green lacewings, ladybird beetles, and others that are our pest control allies. If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic material possible. Before purchasing, read the label carefully. Many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Never spray a blooming plant and spray after dusk when bees and other pollinators are less active.
Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.