Gardening for pollinators
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- Kim Eierman
There are many different pollinators such as beetles, flies, butterflies, some species of bats, hummingbirds, and most importantly—bees.
Animal pollinators are essential for crop pollination, where we get our food, and are said to be responsible for one out of every three bites of food that humans consume.
Pollinators are also responsible for the reproduction of 75 percent of all flowering plants across the globe. In the United States, we have 4,000 native species of bees.
Pollinators, including bees, are declining because of new diseases, pests, pesticides, and lack of forage and habitat.
Kim Eierman, environmental horticulturist and specialist on ecological landscapes and native plants, weighs in on how we can garden to support pollinators.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
“When gardening, include a diverse array of native trees, shrubs and perennials,” said Eierman. “Focusing on native plants is especially important because they have evolved with the creatures around them, including native bees.”
“Bees need both nectar and pollen, known as forage. Some bee species are generalists and can forage on many different plant species, while other bees are specialists, relying on a limited number, and sometimes just one particular plant species.” Some native bees are very good pollinators - orchard mason bees excel at pollinating orchards. 250 orchard mason bees can pollinate one acre of apples versus the work of about 75,000 honey bees.
Bumble bees have evolved as the most efficient pollinators of blueberry plants. Bumble bees perform a specific behavior called buzz pollination which releases a great deal of pollen.
Bees also vary in body size and mouthparts. For example, European honey bees (Apis mellifera) have a short to middle-length tongue, so they are better able to access open flowers. Bumble bees have longer tongues and are very strong – they can push their way into less accessible flowers like Beardtongue.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
Forage in early spring and fall
“Different species of bees emerge throughout the growing season, so it is important to provide a succession of bloom during their active seasons, said Eierman.” She advises choosing plants which are native to your region and appropriate for your site for optimal results.
Early spring and fall can be particularly difficult times for many bee species, when forage sources are limited. Make sure to include native plants that flower at these times of year. “Early blooming native trees, like Red Maple, can be critical sources of early spring nectar and/or pollen for many bee species,” said Eierman.
Fall-blooming plants are important, too, here are some late-blooming perennials Eierman suggests for pollinators:
1) Native Sunflowers (Helianthus species) are great for honey bees, native bees and butterflies with their open, daisy-like structure.
2) Goldenrods (Solidago species) are extremely valuable plants for pollinators but underutilized in home gardens.
“Many people think they are allergic to goldenrods, when they are actually allergic to ragweed” said Eierman. “Native goldenrods are critical food sources for bees and other pollinators in the fall. There are many great species to choose from, but I don’t recommend Canada Goldenrod which can be a thug in the garden.”
3) Native asters (Symphyotrichum and Eurybia species) are other fall-blooming perennials that provide valuable resources for pollinators.
4) Aster-like native plants like False Aster (Boltonia species) and Golden Aster (Chrysopsis species) have flowers easily accessed by many pollinators.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
- Kim Eierman
Creating a meadow or a meadow-like garden is another great way to attract pollinators.
“Replace your lawn with a meadow or meadowscape” suggests Eierman. “Our lawns are ecological wastelands - composed of exotic turf grasses which do not support our ecosystems. Lawns are useless to pollinators.”
Meadows are composed of native grasses and flowering perennials – and are magnets for pollinators. Bees like to utilize the same species of plant when they make a forging trip and meadows provide that repetition for them.
If you can’t plant a meadowscape, Eierman suggests “planting in large targets for pollinators.” Instead of planting just a few of a particular perennial, plant in sizable targets. She suggests a 4’ x 4’ planting as ideal, but do the best that you can in the space you have.
While European honey bees are social insects, nesting in large colonies, the vast majority of our native bees are solitary and are ground-nesters. Eierman stresses the importance of leaving some patches of bare soil in your landscape as habitat for these ground-nesting bees.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
- Kim Eierman
What to avoid
Eierman also mentions a number of things to avoid when gardening for pollinators.
First, bees see on a UV spectrum, and cannot see the color red, unless it has a UV pigment. Therefore, most red flowers will not attract bees, however, red flowers with long corolla tubes are great for hummingbirds. When planting for bees, choose flowers that are bright white, yellow, lavender, purple and blue.
Double-flowered plants are also something to shy away from. Double-flowered plants are often very showy, but frequently lack nectar and pollen for pollinators, and seeds for birds.
“Pesticides can be fatal for bees, even some organic pesticides,” said Eierman. “If you want to support bees and other pollinators, avoid using pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides of any kind.”
Emphasize plants that are native to your region and which are appropriate for your site. Native plants have co-evolved with our native bees, and many can even be used by European honey bees.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
- Kim Eierman
Native plants in your area
To search for plants native to your area, there are a number of resources Eierman recommends including: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center plant database www.wildflower.org, Biota of North America www.bonap.org, and the USDA Plants Database http://plants.usda.gov.
However, Eierman disclosed a few native plants that are great pollinator supporters.
1) Beardtongue (Penstemon species) is a spring-blooming plant that serves as a great provider of nectar for bumble bees.
2) Coneflower (Echinacea species) is a summer-blooming plant which is great for butterflies, and long and short-tongue bees.
3) Giant Hyssop (Agastache species) is another summer-blooming perennial that blooms for an extended period of time, and provides nectar for honey bees, bumble bees and hummingbirds.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
- Kim Eierman
Resources to help you get started
While creating a habitat for pollinators can be a bit overwhelming, Eierman suggests some of the following resources to reference and help you get started.
“You will gain a tremendous amount of knowledge by joining your local native plant society - there is one in almost every state,” said Eierman. “They can be a great source of information about plants which are native to your area.”
The Xerces Society for Insect Conservation is an organization that supports the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. You can visit its website at www.xerces.org.
The Xerces Society’s latest book is Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, which Eierman highly recommends.Date Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
- Kim Eierman
Kim Eierman is also the founder of EcoBeneficial!, a horticulture communications and consulting company. She blogs about ecological landscapes on http://www.ecobeneficial.com
Eierman is a Certified Horticulturist through the American Society for Horticulture Science, a Master Gardener, a Master Naturalist, an Accredited Organic Landcare Professional and recipient of the 2014 Silver Award of Achievement from the Garden Writers Association. She also travels across the United States as an active public speaker.
For more information on Kim Eierman and EcoBeneficial!, please visit:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/EcoBeneficialDate Published: July 14, 2014Date Updated: July 14, 2014
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