Howdy folks! I for one am happy to see that the chilly rainy weather we had last weekend is not sticking around! (Boy, I sure do talk about the weather a lot…) Anyway, on to the blog…
April is National Garden Month, and we are big proponents of using our blogs and newsletters to dish out all things garden know-how. For this week, though, we’re looking at some little critters that play an important role in not just gardens, but most of the natural world at large: pollinators.
Pollinators are bees, butterflies, birds, moths, wasps (spooky, I know), bats, beetles, caterpillars- ANYTHING that helps transmit pollen in order to aid in plant fertilization. According to the NRCS, 75% of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops are dependent on animals to pollinate. Many plants cannot reproduce without pollen being deposited into the proper part of the plant.
Sadly, as you may already be aware, our pollinators are in trouble. Due to habitat reduction and means like deforestation, disease, climate change, pollution, pesticides and other chemicals, and other factors, entire species of bees are going extinct, and phenomena such as colony collapse disorder are still present, although thankfully not as much. Aside from bees, scientists estimate that around 16% of bird and bat species are also on the verge of extinction. If these current trends continue, the conditions of our current food and ecological systems are going to look very, very different…and not in a good way.
So, what can we do to help?
- Plant flowers, trees, and other plants that attract native pollinator species. Keep in mind native. Native plant species= native pollinator species. Milkweed, bee balm, butterfly weed, jewel weed, sunflowers, coneflowers, and goldenrod are all plants that attract butterflies and bees, and some hummingbirds. Be sure to plant varied species as well as varied colors, to attract different critters. The University of Kentucky Entomology Department recently published a list of bee-friendly trees and shrubs that are prominent in the Kentucky region. You can access that list at this link– it’s towards the bottom of the article (The list will download as a PDF).
- If you don’t put in a fall garden this year, consider planting some pollinator-friendly cover crops. Bees love purple and crimson clover!
- Watch your pesticide use! Don’t use them unless you have a serious infestation that has been attempted to be controlled by other means (hand-picking, removing dead plant debris, introducing predatory insects, etc). Many commercial pesticides are extremely harmful to pollinators, mostly bees. If you have to use them, first, read the label! You might find a less-toxic version of the same pesticide elsewhere. Apply as low of a dose as possible, or use a less concentrated dose, and avoid spraying on blooming flowers. Time of day in application also plays a role; in general, most pollinators are least active during the early evening hours, although it’s always a good idea to research pollinator activity in your area.
- Make nesting habitats for hummingbirds. More information is at the link in “nesting”, but hummingbirds typically nest in undisturbed trees or shrubs. or set out a feeder. Make a “nectar” solution by mixing 1 part sugar to 4 parts boiling water. Unlike store-bought hummingbird nectar, do not add any colorings or dyes- these can be harmful to hummingbirds.
- Bats are just as important as bees, butterflies, and birds: More than 300 species of fruit rely on bats for pollination, and moreover, bats are master insect controllers, specifically mosquitoes. Like hummingbirds, you can create habitats for bats, including leaving dead standing trees (Yes, I know that sounds bizarre). Also, if you come across a sleeping bat, do not wake it up! Bats hibernate and have to live on reserved fat stores for 5-6 months, so if they are awakened prematurely, they may lose some of those reserves, severely weakening them. Think about it: How would you feel if you were sound asleep mid-hibernation and something woke you up suddenly? I don’t imagine you’d be too happy.
- Create a monarch way station in your home garden, which is a collection of milkweed and flowering plants in which migrating monarchs can receive nectar and lay their eggs; these clusters of plants can encourage migrating monarch populations to stay local. See if you can start a series of way stations in your neighborhood or community.
- Purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables- and honey!- from your farmers market or other retailer. Chances are, they’ve been visited by a pollinator or two 🙂
There are SO MANY other things we can do to protect the pollinators of our little corner of the world. I highly recommend taking a look at The Xerces Society, a conservation organization that promotes environmental stewardship and outreach with a focus on protecting pollinators, specifically invertebrate pollinators. There’s so much useful information on their site!
Also, on an unrelated(ish) note, I used to be really afraid of bees. But since I’ve started working here, having visited a few gardens in my time and even capturing bees in action (see above), I have so much more appreciation for them and for their valuable contribution to our ecosystem. Just…um….stay on your side of the lawn, Mr. Bumble Bee 🙂
Have a great weekend, everyone! ***Please don’t forget to send in your Pollen submissions– they’re due on Monday, and late submissions will NOT be accepted! Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org!