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Gardening for Pollinators

June 19, 2015
Bee collecting pollen on globe thistle (Echinops) flower. (Photo Credit: Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extens

Pollinators are all the "buzz" these days with a federal proclamation designating June 15-21 as National Pollinator Week. Now in its eighth year, the focus of this event is to promote the health of pollinators, so critical to food and ecosystems.

It may surprise you to learn that the honeybee is native to Europe and was introduced to the US. But there are also numerous other pollinator species including native bees, butterflies and moths, beetles, birds and bats. Many pollinators have suffered from loss of habitat, chemical misuse, diseases and parasites.

Gardeners play a critical role in the nurturing and conservation of both native and introduced pollinators. Gardens and landscapes provide pollinators with food, water, shelter and habitat to complete their life cycles. Urban areas typically feature large areas of pavement and buildings and offer little in the way of food or shelter for pollinators – garden plantings can help bridge the gap.

Honeybees and other pollinators need protein from flower pollen and carbohydrates from flower nectar. Plan to provide a variety of different types of flowers, and aim to have three different flower species in bloom throughout the growing season. Showy colorful flowers and massed groups of flowers particularly in small gardens provide efficient feeding stations for the pollinators. Flowering trees and shrubs also provide excellent food sources.

Pollinators also need shelter from wind, scorching sun and heavy rains. Plants, garden structures such as fences, and windbreaks may make the garden more attractive to pollinators.

Pesticides can harm bees and other pollinators directly or may change their behavior or reproductive potential. Some chemicals make pollinators more susceptible to disease. You can protect pollinators by using alternative prevention and control strategies such as hand-picking pests and mulching and by being selective when it becomes necessary to use pesticides.

Read and follow all label directions and pay particular attention to timing your application to minimize impact on pollinators. Generally, bees and others are less active in very early morning or at dusk. Choose spray rather than dust formulations of pesticides to lessen potential for contact. Avoid using pesticides in areas where pollinators are likely to forage. Maintain a buffer "no-spray area" when possible. Wait until flowers have faded (petal-fall) before applying. Mow the lawn to remove flowers of weeds before spraying.

Want to learn more? Here are a few selected resources on pollinators:

* National Pollinator Partnership (and National Pollinator Week), http://pollinator.org

* Selecting Plants for Pollinators,

http://pollinator.org/PDFs/Guides/EBFContinentalrx13FINAL.pdf

* Purdue Entomology Info on Neonicotinoids (Resources for insect pest control with pollinator safety in mind.), http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/neonicotinoids

* Purdue's On Six Legs columns by Tom Turpin,

Insect Pollinators Will Work for Food

Bees and Blossoms Play the Pollination Game

Honey Bees Not Native to North America

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Best Management Practices for Pollinator Protection in the Yard and Garden, http://tinyurl.com/oxbdwfn

The Xerces Society, http://www.xerces.org

 

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