Celebrate the coming of spring and learn how to do your part to make a difference for these invaluable beings. You can play a huge part in bringing pollinators back from the brink.
Who are they?
For most of us, butterflies and honeybees immediately come to mind, but they are only the start. Birds, bats, solitary bees, beetles, moths, and wasps are among these important creatures, too.
Why do we care?
Pollinators are essential for the reproduction of over 180,000 species of plants and 1200 food crops. Essentially, that means that we count on pollinators to bring us one out of every three bites of food we consume.
Why are they in jeopardy?
We are losing pollinators at an alarming rate for many reasons. The misuse of pesticides and chemicals, pollution, the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, disease, and changes in climate patterns have all had a devastating effect on these delicate creatures.
Good news: You can help.
One of the most important actions we can take as individuals is to create habitat and food sources for pollinators. You can plant native plants – or at least non-natives that are not invasive – that attract them to your yard and provide shelter and food. You can find an extensive list of plants native to our area here. You can do this no matter the size of your space. You can plant coneflowers in a balcony planter all the way to downsizing your lawn and turning it into a mini-meadow. When you can, try to plant in clusters to provide a landing site. Make an effort to provide continuous blooming from spring through fall. Plants labels will provide you with this information.
We also need to think beyond the butterflies and the bees. Caterpillars are the powerhouses of turning plants into energy in the form of food to birds, who are remarkable pollinators in their own right. Caterpillars are supported heavily by specific keystone native trees and plants that have been identified by Doug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. Most important of these is the white oak. Other trees that made his list are willows, birches, and wild cherry trees. The most beneficial herbaceous plants included goldenrod, asters, and perennial sunflowers. Planting an oak tree or caring for one that has been “planted” by a helpful squirrel can provide invaluable food and habitat far into the future. If you would like to learn more on this, you can dive deeper in Tallamy’s book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.
These next two may sound a little messy, but leaving fallen branches where they lay provides nesting sites and shelter. Also, reducing mulch in some areas will expose some bare earth for ground nesting bees to utilize.
You can also provide housing for solitary bees (Mason bees are one of these species) by making or purchasing one like this from Lowe’s.
If you are feeling ambitious, register your yard as a certified habitat with the National Wildlife Federation or Pollinator Partnership. Both of these certifications will provide you with a sign to place in your landscape to start a conversation with your friends and neighbors.
In addition to providing habitat, we can reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals and pesticides in our own landscapes and choose organic whenever we can. If you cannot avoid pesticide use, consider utilizing organic options such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Enlightened Soil Corp. out of Johns Island, SC, has created an algae soil superstarter to substitute for harmful NPK fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). Remember, healthy soil and native plants are the best defense against pests.
Support local bees and beekeepers by purchasing local honey. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, consider starting a colony of your own. Find beekeeping organizations in many communities. In our area, the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association offers great support to help beginners get started.
Finally, spread the word! Be a pollinator evangelist and support organizations that are fighting for the fabulous birds, bees, and butterflies!