You’ve heard the saying, “Think globally; act locally.” Well, here’s your chance! June is National Pollinator Month. Pollinators are vital to the production of many of the foods we eat. In fact, it’s estimated that a third of the crops we grow depend on pollinators. But many pollinators, including honeybees and native bees, are in trouble. Populations are in sharp decline due to pesticide use, disease and parasite problems, and loss of food and nesting habitat. How can you help?
Just like people, pollinators need food, water, shelter, and a safe and healthy environment to live in and raise their young. Here are some ideas for ways you can help pollinators in your schoolyard, community garden, or home landscape.
- Plant a pollinator-friendly garden with a variety of flowering plants to give a succession of bloom from spring to fall. This will provide pollinators with nectar and pollen to feed on all season long. Remember that many flowering trees and shrubs are important sources of food for pollinators early in the season. Especially when planting flowering annuals and perennials, try to group each kind of plant into clumps of three or more rather than dotting them individually throughout your garden. This makes it easier for pollinators to locate plants!
- Include lots of native plants in your garden. Native plants have evolved along with native pollinators, making them generally the most beneficial to these insects. Choose native plants that are adapted to the soil, light, and moisture conditions in your garden and you’ll help pollinators and make your garden care easier.
- Include plants to feed all stages of pollinators’ life cycle. There are no butterflies without caterpillars! Make sure you have plants that will feed both the immature as well as the adult stages of pollinators. For example, while adult monarch butterflies feed on many kinds of flowers, their caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed plants. Similarly, the caterpillars of eastern black swallowtails feed on plants in the carrot family, like Queen Anne’s lace, carrots, parley, and dill. And accept that these caterpillar host plants will be chewed on – plant them in an inconspicuous spot if you don’t want to look at ragged leaves.
- Minimize the use of pesticides, even organic ones. Even pesticides approved for organic gardens may harm pollinators, so try to keep any pesticide use to a minimum. If you do use a one, choose a pesticide with the lowest risk to bees and other pollinators; check the label for bee hazard information. Spray in the evening after the pollinators have stopped flying.
- Go wild! If you can, let a corner of your schoolyard or backyard go “wild.” A wooded area, hedgerow, or unmowed “mini-meadow” will provide shelter, food, and nesting areas for many pollinators.
- Provide a source of water. A shallow basin of water set on the ground with some stones or piles of gravel in it on which insects can perch will help pollinators quench their thirst. Some insects, especially butterflies and some pollinator bees, prefer a mud puddle. Let a hose or faucet drip just a bit to form a damp, muddy sipping spot. Add a bit of sea salt or wood ashes to the mud to add micronutrients and minerals to their diet.
- Don’t be too tidy. Leave some leaf litter and plants standing over the winter to provide spots for pollinators to overwinter. If you can, leave some dead wood standing in an out-of-the-way area to provide nesting sites for native bees.
- Build bee housing. Make nesting blocks for pollinating bees that nest in wood, such as mason bees, by drilling at least 10 holes 4 to 8 inches deep and 5/16” in diameter in a block of untreated wood. Hang your bee “condo” with the holes set horizontally at least 3 feet off the ground and facing as close to southeast as possible.
- Enhance your lawn. Lawn “weeds” like white clover and dandelions provide a source of food for pollinators when they’re in bloom. Think of your lawn as pollinator habitat and embrace the idea of letting more than just turf grasses grow there.
- Spread the word. One pollinator-friendly garden is good; an entire neighborhood or community of them is even better! Share information with your school community, neighbors and others in your town or city about the importance of protecting and nurturing pollinators, and encourage them to make their gardens and landscapes welcoming to pollinators too.