How important is pollination? Without it, we would not have about three-quarters of the world’s food crops. Imagine your diet without some fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds and other animals: fao.org/news/story/en/item/384726/icode
Honey bees, in particular, pollinate more than 100 different crops. They perform more than 80 percent of all pollination for cultivated crops. It is estimated that these frequent fliers add about $15 billion “to the U.S. economy each year in increased crop yields:” uaex.edu/farm-ranch/special-programs/beekeeping/pollinators.aspx
We have all heard about the decline in the bee population. This is due to a number of factors, such as colony collapse disorder and destruction of their natural environment.
How can we help? Plant a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. This will help attract pollinators to your yard. Include different varieties of blooming plants so you will have flowers from early spring to fall. Colorado State University Extension has a list of plants: extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/creating-pollinator-habitat-5-616
The University of California advises us to choose at least 20 different types of flowering plants. They suggest clumping the plants together to provide a landing zone for the pollinators. Native plants are preferred: ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=27516
In my own yard, I tend to rely on herbs that produce flowers for a continual food supply for the pollinators. Oregano is usually the favorite for the honey bees. They also seem to enjoy bee balm, holy basil, catnip, chamomile, lavender, mint, and lemon balm. I call these dual-function plants — a little for Mother Nature’s helpers and a little for my afternoon tea.
Another important step in helping our bee population is to reduce the amount of pesticides we use. If we encourage beneficial insects to take up residency in our yards, they will often do the work of an insecticide for us. This requires some patience and tolerance in allowing certain levels of harmful insects to become established first. The beneficial insects have to have something to eat, right?
The University of Georgia warns us that bees are not only killed by direct contact with a pesticide. The pollen or nectar on the bee’s body can become contaminated. So, when they return to their colony, they are passing on the pesticide to the rest of the hive.
If you must spray, avoid directly spraying the blooms and apply only in the evening. Solutions that dry quickly or granules that can be applied to the soil have the potential to be less harmful: bees.caes.uga.edu/bees-beekeeping-pollination/pollination/pollination-protecting-pollinators-from-pesticides.html#Edit
Pollinator Partnership also has a plethora of information on pollinator friendly gardening. They cover topics such as pollinator foraging, reproduction, and shelter: pollinator.org/learning-center/gardens
Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether @gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.