By now we are probably all too familiar with the staggering statistics regarding the decline in bee colonies, the loss of monarch butterfly populations, and the deterioration in biodiversity in general.
- U.S. honey bee populations have declined by a third each year since 2006. While the loss of honeybees is alarming, our native, wild bees are also disappearing.
- Monarch butterfly populations have declined by almost 90% due to habitat loss and use of pesticides.
The truth of the matter is that pollinators are essential to human life and the lives of many other species. Without them, 85% of plants would not be able produce the seeds or fruits that countless other animals depend on. Not to mention, that one in three mouthfuls of our own food and beverage require the presence of a pollinator.
Pollinators, however, don’t just include bees and butterflies — birds, wasps, flies, bats, moths, and even beetles all transport pollen.
Pollinators need our help, and every little bit helps! Here are simple guidelines to help you mindfully support our pollinators.
FOOD: Help pollinators by providing a diversity of plants that bloom from early spring to late fall. Plant a variety of colors, fragrances and heights. Help them find the food by planting clusters of the same plant. Clustering plants also helps them be more efficient pollinators by transferring the pollen to the same species, instead of squandering the pollen on unreceptive, neighboring flowers. Plant native (to your region) whenever possible as they are four times more attractive to pollinators. Avoid pollen-less cultivars and double-petaled varieties of ornamental flowers. Keep in mind that many herbs and annual flowers, while not native, are very beneficial food sources to pollinators. Even some weeds, such as the spring dandelions, are food sources. Visit the links below for comprehensive lists of pollinator-friendly plants.
Remember to plant host plants as well as plants that provide pollen. Many butterflies need to feed on host plants during their larval stage. Monarch butterflies for instance, feed exclusively on milkweed during their caterpillar stage.
WATER: A clean, reliable source of water is essential to pollinators. Streams, ponds, pools, and bird baths, even puddles, provide drinking and bathing opportunities for pollinators. Ensure the water sources have a shallow or sloping side so the pollinators can easily approach the water without drowning. I like to put a nice rock in the center of my bird bath that lays slightly above the water level.
SHELTER: Pollinators need protection from severe weather and from predators, as well as places for nesting and egg-laying. Incorporate different layers in the landscape — ground covers, perennials of varying heights, shrubs and trees. Keep some ground area bare as well for native bees that nest underground. Many beneficial pollinators overwinter in the dried, hollow stalks of plants.
PROTECTION FROM PESTICIDES: It has been well documented that the excessive and inappropriate use of pesticides has played a major role in the decline of pollinator populations. There are non-chemical options for protecting our plants and crops from pests and for controlling invasive plants. Remember, that even some “organic” pesticides can harm pollinators.
I urge you to take steps to make your landscape more pollinator-friendly. Learn more by visiting these sites.
SOURCES & REFERENCES
Xerces.org – Pollinator Conservation Fact Sheet
Pollinator.org – Regional Guide for Selecting Plants for Pollinators
Panna.org – Bee Friendly Gardening
NRCS.USDA.gov – Pollinator Plants for the Northeast
American Beauties Native Plants – Best Native Plants for Bees
American Beauties – Best Plants for Butterflies