In case you have not heard, Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org), a nonprofit “dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems” has a signature initiative, National Pollinator Week, which was started in 2007. Their mission is to promote the health of pollinators through conservation, education and research. The Pollinator Partnership is also proud to announce that June 15-21, 2015 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
First, think about who our pollinators are – European honey bees, native bees, butterflies, birds, bats, beetles, moths and other animals. There are more than 200,000 species of animals that can pollinate plants. All of these animals transfer pollen from one flower to another in their quest for nectar and pollen. More than 1000 crops depend on these animals for pollination in order to produce the food, spices, beverages, medicines and fiber we rely on. We have not only seen a drastic decline in managed honeybees over the past decade or so but also a reduction in native pollinators as lands supporting native plants are turned into agricultural monocultures, industrial zones, parking lots, residences with large lawn areas and little plant diversity and other uses that do not encourage the growth of native plants. The decline of both managed and native pollinators has also been linked to pesticide use.
Gardeners and other concerned citizens can help reverse this trend. A number of conservation and gardening organizations got together and formed the National Pollinator Garden Network which has just launched a new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
The organizations behind this campaign are hoping for one million pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. Becoming a supporter of this campaign requires two steps. Planting a pollinator garden and registering it. Do note that there are no size requirements for your pollinator garden. They can range from a single window box to a farm to a whole college campus.
Step one does require a little thought and planning. To start with, what kinds of plants should be grown in a pollinator garden? Ideally, there should be native plants to support native pollinators because these plants and animals evolved over time and often have specific roles to fulfill. The plants in the garden should not only support adult pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths but, in the case of butterflies and moths, their larval or caterpillar stage as well. This may require a little research but there are plenty of good websites and books out there. The problem with some non-native plants is that they may not produce enough nectar or pollen to support a native pollinator species or, in the case of larvae, may be unpalatable. The Xerces Society has a pollinator plant list that one can begin with: http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NortheastPlantList_web.pdf
This does bring into question ‘nativars’. For those not familiar with this term, it refers to a cultivated variety of a native species. So if, for instance, if a New England aster has a particularly nice color or growth form or resistance to an insect or disease, it might be vegetatively propagated and sold, and would then be known as a nativar. But is it’s pollen as nutritious to our native bee species as the original native plant’s? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no and sometimes no one knows. So much about these interactions are yet unknown so it would be great if more research would be done in this area.
My hope is that providing enough variety in my garden will balance out the effects of planting some non-natives and some nativars. The diversity card seems to be working as I have all sorts of native bees, flies, butterflies and even ruby-throated hummingbirds and bats (although I wish the bats would stay out of the house!).
If you are planning on taking up this challenge, then choose plants that provide nectar, pollen and food for moth and butterfly larvae. So don’t plant those pollen-less sunflowers because, although they are neater as cut flowers, they are useless to pollinators, not to mention goldfinches. Single or semi-double flowers are more attractive to pollinators than doubles because they produce more pollen.
Try for continuous bloom from early spring (crocus) through late fall (single, hardy mums). Even though these two plants are not native, they are mobbed by pollinators at the beginning and end of each gardening season in my gardens.
Site your container planting or garden in full sun and if located in an exposed windy site, try and shelter it from persistent winds by locating it next to a building, large shrub or other windbreak. Pollinators need water so set out a bird bath, puddle rock or even a more elaborate fountain or pond so they can access it.
Most importantly, keep an eye on your plants and notice if bees and other pollinators are visiting them. If so, register your site. If not, switch out some of the plants for more native ones and see what happens.
If you are interested in learning about pollinators and more, UConn Extension will be hosting Bug Week from July 20-25, 2015. There will be events, interactive activities, and programs that you can do on your own. Browse our site, and if you have questions email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-486-9228.
Whoever came up with that adage, “The only good bug is a dead bug” most certainly did not understand man’s reliance on insects. Get to know them! Appreciate them – or give up coffee and chocolate, for without pollinating insects we would most certainly not get to experience these two treats.