Pollinators are essential to our environment. Creatures such as bees, bats, butterflies and hummingbirds move pollen from plant to plant, thus enabling flowers, fruits and vegetables to produce seeds. In fact, this ecological service is necessary for the reproduction of 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s food crop species. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, pollinators contributed to the production of nearly $30 billion of crops in 2010. Pollinators are also a keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. The foods produced as a result of pollination are major elements of the diets of a variety of birds and mammals.
However, the natural act of pollination has become severely threatened. Populations of pollinators are on the decline due to habitat loss, pesticide use and introduced diseases. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 25 percent of the national honeybee population perished last winter. The United States Geological Survey has found that the bat population has decreased by as much as 90 percent since the occurrence of a devastating illness called White Nose Syndrome. And, butterfly populations have dropped sharply over the past 20 years as well. As the numbers of pollinators decrease, our viable and
affordable food supplies will decrease, too.
How can you assist valuable pollinators? Build a pollinator garden! With a few simple considerations, you can turn your landscape into a Mecca for bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds.
Native plants in shades of blue, violet, white, yellow and scarlet are attractive to pollinators. Choose plants with a wide range of bloom times so that pollinators will find a continuous source of food throughout the year. Also, use a range of floral shapes to accommodate the pollinators who visit your garden. Try bell-shaped (campanulate) or trumpet-shaped varieties such as foxglove, honeysuckle and petunia. Flowers with flat faces and narrow tubes, or salverform flowers, include phlox and primrose. Ligulates are flowers with long, thin petals that are typically arranged in rays and include daisy, cosmos and aster. Common plants for a pollinator garden include aster, bee balm, rudbeckia, liatris, butterfly weed, coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, phlox, coreopsis, gaura, veronica, penstemon and goldenrod. Herbs – especially thyme, oregano, sage, basil, peppermint, lavender, catnip and rosemary – will draw pollinators, and you can reap their culinary benefits as well.
Plant flowers in drifts, or groups according to species. Masses of three to five flowers will attract pollinators more effectively than individual flowers scattered throughout the garden.
Encourage nesting and roosting by incorporating canopy layers such as trees and shrubs in the garden. Patches of fallen branches and leaves create suitable nesting and roosting habitats, too. Build nests for solitary bees and boxes for bats.
Provide accessible water sources, and supplement the food sources in your garden with feeders. Butterflies will appreciate a puddle because the water contains the dissolved minerals that they need to supplement their diets. You can easily create a butterfly puddle by lining a small dish with sand, filling it with water and placing it in your garden. Hummingbirds will enjoy a feeder filled with simple sugar water. Dissolve one cup of white, granulated sugar in four cups of boiling water. When the sugar water is cool, add it to your feeder and place the feeder near your garden. Avoid red dyes. Artificial dyes can be harmful to hummingbirds.
Also, reduce the use of pesticides in your lawn and garden. While pesticides are effective at ridding your garden of crop destroying pests, they can also decimate the populations of pollinators and other beneficial creatures such as ladybugs, lacewings, frogs and lizards. Use sustainable, integrated pest management techniques instead of pesticides.
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