PREPARE FOR “NEW” POLLINATORS
By Sandi Hillermann McDonald
With fewer honeybees these days, it’s time to welcome alternative pollinators into your garden. We’ve all heard the news: Populations of the honeybee are declining. Factors such as habitat loss, pesticide use, and diseases have taken a toll on these heroes of the horticultural world.
The story that seldom gets attention is that for home gardeners there are plenty of native pollinators. Roughly 4,000 species of bees are native to North America, including approximately 45 types of bumblebees. Plus, many types of flies, certain wasps, and even butterflies and bats can act as pollinators.
By attracting a diversity of these beneficial visitors, pollination in your garden will improve. Thus, yields of edible crops like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and berries will increase. You can take three steps to welcome pollinators to your garden.
1. PROVIDE NECTAR AND POLLEN RICH PLANTS, INCLUDING NATIVES AND HERBS. The native pollinators in our region have co-evolved with the native plants, so use native wildflowers to draw them to your yard. To maintain a population of pollinators, it is important to have plants in bloom all season long. Even a small garden can support local pollinators. Herbs can attract native pollinators and provide them with nourishment, too. Native plants are easy to grow because they are adapted to our local climate and growing conditions and, once established, are fairly low-maintenance.
2. ENSURE THAT POLLINATORS HAVE NEST SITES. Many native pollinators nest underground, so have some open areas. Bumblebees often make their homes in abandoned mouse and vole tunnels, while others prefer piles of rock. Small bees may fly only a few hundred yards from their nest when foraging; large bees will travel a mile or more in search of food. Mixing pollen and nectar plants among your fruit and vegetables will keep bees close to the plants you want them to pollinate.
3. STOP USING PESTICIDES. Pesticides are toxic to pollinators. Pesticides should not be used on plants in bloom. If you must, apply pesticides either near dark or very early in the morning. At these times, insects are less active. The best choice is to use natural pesticides and there are many available today. Visit your local independent garden center for help with the best natural insect controls to use for different plant pests.
Please consider joining the efforts of the City of Washington Parks Department and Washington In Bloom to help pollinators with the 100 Pollinator Garden Challenge Program and claim your garden as a pollinator habitat. Current gardens that include pollinator plants (blooming native, perennial and annual plants) can be registered, or you can find an area in your yard that receives at least 6 hours of sun to plant your garden including natives, perennials and annuals to provide nectar from April through October.
To register your garden: bring a picture of your garden to the Washington Parks Department Office at 1220 Lakeshore Drive in Washington to register for certification and receive a certificate. Official Certified Pollinator Garden Metal Signs are also available through Washington Parks Department for $15.00. The signs are a great way to promote this challenge and enhance your beautiful garden. Call the Washington Parks Department at 636-390-1080 for more information.