There is much discussion about the importance of pollinators in the context of a healthy environment and planet. Some pests you don't want in your yard or garden, but you do want to promote healthy habitats for pollinators.
Why are pollinators important? The truth is, pollinators need us, but we need pollinators even more. Various flying creatures, insects, and other animals that pollinate plants are responsible for putting about one out of every three bites of food on our tables by helping plants reproduce. They also help prevent soil erosion, help contain carbon, clean the air, stabilize soil, and overall, help maintain the health of our ecosystem.
What are Pollinators?
Pollinators (pollinating animals), in the normal course of their activities, travel around, carrying and spreading pollen on their bodies that enables the transfer of genetic materials between plants. They help plants (i.e., fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils, etc.) reproduce.
Though these processes go unnoticed (the maintenance of our ecosystem on many levels is practically invisible to our eyes), they are vital to us and our planet.
What is Pollination?
When a pollen grain moves from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part), pollination happens. This is the first step in a process that produces seeds, fruits, and the next generation of plants. This can happen through self-pollination, wind and water pollination, or through the work of vectors that move pollen within the flower and from bloom to bloom.
Why Pollinators are so Important
Most flowering plants (between 75 and 95 percent,) need some kind of help with pollination. That amounts to over 180,000 different plant species (over 1,200 different crops). These plants need pollinators, which means humans need pollinators.
- About one out of every three bites of food we eat is made available to us thanks to pollinators.
- Pollinators add around $217 billion to the global economy (honey bees are responsible for $1.2 to $5.4 billion in agricultural output in the United States alone).
- In addition to the food that we eat, and the maintenance of our healthy ecosystem, pollinators also help protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.
Who are the Pollinators?
There are quite a few different pollinators. Bats, birds, moths, butterflies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most prominently: pollinator bees. Bees drink nectar from flowers and feed off of pollen, later transporting the pollen from one area to another.
Are Pollinator Populations in Trouble?
Effects of chemical mismanagement, pollution, disease, and climate changes are all enabling the crippling and shifting of pollinator populations. Conditions for pollinator populations are in flux, and not for the better--their populations are in a decline, mainly due to increasingly significant shortages in their viable feeding and nesting habitats. In many cases, inadequate data makes it difficult to determine an accurate assessment, and this may be an even bigger problem.
How Can We Help Pollinators?
Scientists and researchers have shown after extensive studies many conservation techniques that can help pollinators. No one (homeowners, industry, governments) can do everything, but everyone can do something to help our pollinators and help secure our own future and the future of our planet. One thing homeowners and building managers can do to help is to create pollinator-friendly landscapes around their respective structures.
What is a Pollinator Garden?
A pollinator garden is a garden planted to make conditions ideal to attract a wide range of pollinators. It features many flowers that can provide nectar or pollen for a vast range of pollinating insects.
Ideally, pollinator gardens should:
Be situated in sunny areas with at least some shield from the wind
Plan to be growing flowers through the entire growing season
Feature a water source
Use plants and flowers to provide nectar and pollen
Group like flowers together in large clusters
Feature native or non-invasive plants
Minimize or avoid the use of pesticides
How to Create a Pollinator-Friendly Landscape
Here are some simple steps to help you create your own pollinator-friendly garden around your home or office building.
Study up on pollinators
Learn what you can about pollinators to help you start recognizing them and ways you can make your habitat more attractive for them. Spend some time with your binoculars watching their habits.
Avoid modern "hybrid" plants and flowers
The miracles of modern genetic horticulture can help produce some desirable outcomes, but in the process, natural pollens, nectars, and fragrances can get lost along the way. Plant the natural plants and flowers that pollinators will come looking for.
Plant in clusters using a wide variety of plants
You want to have as many plants and flowers ongoing in bloom between early spring and late fall, and there is a large variety of plants to choose from. Plant in clusters of like flowers and plants, rather than several single plants/flowers planted in variation. Be sure to include plants native to your area, as they are already adapted to your climate, soil, and native pollinators. Don't forget to support moths and bats by including night-blooming flowers in your mix.
Leave the limbs
Dead trees and limbs make ideal nesting sites for native pollinator bees. As long as there is no safety hazard to those walking nearby and below, leaving them as-is creates a benefit. You may also consider creating a "bee condo" by drilling several holes (about three to five inches deep) of different diameters into a piece of scrap lumber that can be mounted to a post or underneath the structure's eaves.
If you want to make your pollinator garden appealing to colorful butterflies, be sure to grow plants that caterpillars like. Research the types of plants you would need to include. These host plants probably won't be the most visually appealing (some might even be considered "weeds"), so put them in a spot you're OK with, especially because they will often display damage from caterpillars feeding on them.
Hummingbird feeders as a nectar resource
Artificial nectar can be provided to your pollinators by mixing four parts water with one part regular sugar (no artificial sweeteners, fruit juices, or honey), then fixing something red in color onto the feeder itself to catch hummingbird attention. Just be sure to clean your feeder thoroughly with hot water and soap once or twice a week to keep it from getting moldy!
Install a salt lick for butterflies and bees
With a dripping hose or irrigation line (you can also place a birdbath right on the soil), create a damp area. Mix some sea salt, table salt, or wood ashes into the mud for butterflies and bees.
More butterfly resources
Butterflies are attracted to rotting fruit, among other things, like moist animal droppings and urine. Try putting out chunks of overripe bananas, oranges, apples, and other fruits for butterflies (a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water can also work). Note that sea salt provides a wider range of nutrients than regular table salt.
Eliminate (and even avoid) pest control products whenever possible
If you need to use pest control products in your pollinator garden, use the most earth-friendly ones available. Read the labels carefully before purchasing, as many pest control products are toxic to bees, in particular. Use according to label directions. The best time of day to treat with these products is in the evening/night, when bees and other pollinators are less active or not active at all.
Worried About Protecting Your Plants?
Once your pollinator-friendly garden is in place, you'll want to take good care of the plants. If you do have to use any pest control products, and to help minimize the effects caused by weather, plant pests, and plant diseases, try an effective botanical garden spray to address pests, mites, and fungi. Look for a garden spray that you can use for organic gardening, indoors and outdoors, and that offers contact kill and residual repellency, without leaving behind harmful residues. Look for botanical pest control products that might repel beneficial pollinator insects, without killing them.
Do you have a pollinator garden? What are your go-to maintenance strategies? We want to hear about them! Comment below!
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