Create Beautifully Useful Pollinator Gardens
Create Beautifully Useful Pollinator Gardens
Happy Pollinator Week!
It’s Pollinator Week, so we have put together a special plant collection of wonderful pollinator-friendly natives and nativars for you. Our horticultural team is always on the hunt for plants that provide food and shelter for these critical insects and animals.
If you’ve heard the buzz about declining bee populations, you probably want more information on easy ways you can help. At Nature Hills, we love plants of all shapes and sizes, but flowering and fruiting plants hold a very special place in our hearts.
To help celebrate National Pollinator Week, we’ve also put this informative article together for you. In it, you’ll find some easy ways you can improve habitat by creating gardens and landscapes that include food and shelter for your local pollinators.
But those pests can STING YOU! Why would you want to give them food and shelter? Read on, we hope you’ll get a basic understanding of the bigger pollinator picture.
What is the Real Impact of Declining Pollinator Populations?
Did you know that somewhere between 75%-95% of all flowering plants on earth need help with pollination?
Pollinator animals and insects are essential for the production of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Imagine your life without these foods:
Coffee - Pollinated by stingless and solitary bees
Apples - Pollinated by orchard, solitary and bumble bees
Blueberries - Pollinated by honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees
Avocado - Pollinated by honey bees, solitary and stingless bees
According to the Pollinator Partnership, 1 out of every 3 bites of food that you eat is there because of pollinators. So, yes – declining bee populations really do matter to everyone.
Pollination is an important part of the life cycle of all flowering plants. Pollen grains are carried between two flowers of the same species to fertilize each other. Depending on the species, wind or animals can also pollinate within a single flower. Flowers must be fertilized in order to produce healthy fruit and seeds.
As pollinators drink nectar from flowers, they collect the heavy pollen grains from the stamens on their legs or fur. Then off they go to another tree to gather another round of nectar from the second tree’s flowers.
It’s at that point that the pollen from the first plant can get deposited on the second plant’s sticky stigma. Fingers crossed, this transfer of pollen from one plant’s stamen to another’s stigma will fertilize the flower, which then develop into fruit and seeds.
Now, to increase the chance of successful pollination/fertilization, it’s helpful if a flower gets lots of visits from multiple pollinators. The more pollinators flying around in your neighborhood, the better.
Bees visit 50 flowers in a trip, and they are busy. They’ll collect nectar from about 5,000 flowers a day. As they visit flowers and stamp around in the stamens while harvesting nectar as food, it’s more likely that pollen will land on a receptive stigma.
Of course, nearby partner plants are also essential. Pollination partner plants are different varieties in the same species which have overlapping bloom times with each other. Each partner must come into bloom at the same time. As you may know, even “self-pollinating” plants will produce larger crops when they are planted with a second variety of the same species nearby.
Pollination Partner Examples
Wise gardeners will plan for overlapping bloom times in their backyard orchards. This will ensure a longer season of fruiting, as each plant produces in successive waves. A classic example of this is planting the early season Duke blueberry, mid-season Bluecrop and Jersey blueberries, and late season Elliott blueberry together. You’ll get pollination, and harvest blueberries the whole season.
Simply put, pollinators help most plants reproduce. No pollinators = not many crops! In the United States, those pollinators deliver nearly $20 billion worth of products annually. And it’s not just bees….
Umm… Wait A Minute. What Are Pollinators?
These hard-working, helpful animals can be either insects or mammals. There are about 200,000 insects who carry pollen grains, including the usual suspects, such as bees. But there are many more beneficial insects including wasps, moths, butterflies, beetles and flies, ants and beetles. You might be surprised to learn that 1,000 species of bats, birds and even small mammals act as pollinators.
Even bees come in many shapes and sizes. Yes, there are 20,000 bee species. Only a few make honey and they don’t all live in hives.
Please do understand that NONE of the bee species is particularly interested in you, and when left alone, will rarely act aggressively without provocation.
Insects are most active during the day. Don’t leave sugary foods outside uncovered, and don’t wear perfume while you garden. Leave bees alone, remain calm and they’ll tend to do the same to you.
Teach yourself and your kids the difference between bees (hairy with chunky legs) and wasps (smooth bodies and skinny legs).
Pollination is Important, But Wasps Sting!
“So food is important, but really? You want me to care about pests like wasps. Give me a break.”
And it’s true, some wasps and hornets can and do act to protect their territory. If they are far away from the house, consider a truce. However, if they’ve decided the soffits or eaves of your house are “their” territory, you’ll want to take action.
Spray your eaves in early April or use wasp traps according to their directions. There are dusts, traps, foam sprays and homemade alternatives to use. All chemicals should be sprayed in the evening to mitigate risk to beneficial insects. Always follow instructions to the letter. The goal is to use as little chemical as possible to do the job.
Cover your face with a bandana, wear long sleeves, pants, socks and gloves and DON’T STAND UNDER the nest if you use spray. Instead, spray up at an angle.
Hornets are an aggressive species of wasp, so you’ll want to consider calling in an expert if you spy a hornet nest (shaped like a blobby, gray football) near your home. If they see you as a threat at any time and behave aggressively towards you, move indoors or into a car for safety.
Don’t run, and please don’t swat at them, you’ll just bring more wasps to “the rescue”. Moving slowly but surely, get yourself in a safe spot and teach kids to do the same.
Moving fast will threaten the insect, and stings can be painful. Wash the area with soap, then apply a cold pack. Apply hydrocortisone cream and take an ibuprofen. We’ve heard chocolate helps, too. (FYI, cocoa beans are pollinated by tiny midges.)
In general, learning to live with nature is the best course. After all – remember – our food supply really needs all kinds of pollinators! Wasps also hunt pest insects, so let’s have a bit of respect for these hard workers. Learn more
Why Are Pollinators at Risk?
Pollinators are more important than ever as so many of the native feeding and nesting habitats for these birds and insects have been reduced or eliminated. As communities expand and new roads are built to accommodate this expansion, so many of the native plant areas have been altered or destroyed.
Deforestation in rural areas, growing ‘crop monocultures’ and insecticidal spraying has played a huge role in declining pollinator populations. Rural land is disappearing at the rate of around 3,000 acres a day!
For decades, these feeding and nesting habitats were quietly being reduced and destroyed without anyone paying too much attention. Some of the change comes from climate changes and from the use (or mis-use) of chemicals, or from pests and disease.
Even the horticulture industry has played a part. Native plants can sometimes behave “weedy” in a garden setting. Growers have carefully worked to develop new hybrids and plant selections that are better behaved. These new hybrids and cultivars were bred for specific qualities - like color and disease resistance - that the native plants did not offer.
Growers weren’t necessarily been breeding “nativars” with pollinators in mind. Now, however, we’ve been learning a LOT about the importance of using good pest management practices and improving soil quality. Diversity of planting and high-density planting of pollination partners are in common practice now.
We’ve also made great strides in awareness of honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). For instance, extracts from Hops vines are being used to successfully control varroa mites and other harmful insects to revive the health and keep honey bees happy and productive.
Benefits of Using Flowering Native Plants
So what can you do to lend support to these critical insects and animals? It’s easy!
Pollinators are attracted to the flowers where they drink the nectar. You like flowers, too. As they drink, they’ll pick up pollen grains and transfer them from flower to flower and plant to plant.
Now we know how important these native plants are, and we’ve seen a big trend of using native plants once again. Remember that native plants grew where the conditions were right for them. It is important to research the right plant for the right area. Not every native plant grows everywhere , so please study the Plant Highlights on our product pages to learn the correct conditions for any plant you may be considering. Our plant list for Pollinators is a great place to start!
Incorporate plants that offer pollen and nectar throughout the season in your area. Be sure to grow some plants that flower early in the spring as well, as flowers that bloom late into the growing season. As you plan your garden design, choose early blooming, mid-season blooming and end of season bloomers.
Create pollinator-friendly habitat with native flowering plants that give nectar, pollen and shelter to pollinators of all shapes and sizes. Why not establish a small wildflower patch that won’t need to be mowed? Let a few vegetable plants go to flower. Leave most perennial plants standing for the winter months to create habitats for these beneficials to overwinter, as well. Learn more
You might also consider planting native plants in a series of containers, such as a long row of whiskey barrels. Pollinators visiting these plants add a delightful sense of motion to your yard. Native plants are interesting and beautiful.
Always Follow Plant Regulations
Please, please, please… buy plants only from regulated nurseries like Nature Hills. Don’t harvest wild plants or buy from unregulated sources and introduce them in your yard. You don’t want to take the risk of introducing pests or problems into your neighborhood. That can be devastating to your entire community, including the pollinators.
We work with expert growers who specialize in these wonderful plants. We are also protecting your local environment by using Plant Sentry™, an online tool that blocks shipments with any state, regional or local regulations against a specific plant.
When you work with Nature Hills, you can do your part by offering and including natives and flowering nativars into your landscape. You’ll love knowing you are taking steps to attract the beneficial birds and insects that are attracted to these special plants.
You can make a difference. Start small in your own yard, but don’t forget to start. Discuss it with your neighbors, relatives and friends to make them aware. You may want to register your garden in the national pollinator garden network. Include pollinator friendly plants that bloom to attract native pollinators. Create gardens as a source of food to improve the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators.
Look to see what is happening in your community. Many states across North America, including Illinois, Texas, Virginia, and Ohio have won awards for planting and maintaining pollinator habitats along roadways. This is an impressive, impactful project that can be done anywhere.
Use chemicals carefully as directed and only when necessary at your own home. Spray at the end of day when the bees or insects are not as active.
Reduce tilling with mulched wood chips and lasagna-style gardening. Many native bees live in the soil.
Finally, check with your local extension office to see if they have a list of plants that you should be including in your yard to attract beneficial insects and pollinators and do your part.
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