Most of us don’t give much thought to bees and butterflies, but these animals do a lot for us. According to calculations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 75% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators and in 2010, pollinators like honey bees and other insects contributed nearly $29 billion dollars worth of labor to crop pollination.
So whether you’re concerned about the wellbeing of wild ecosystems or the prosperity of U.S. agriculture, taking care of pollinators is important.
Unfortunately, loss of habitat, pesticide exposure and other forces are causing pollinator populations to decline. Luckily, you can actually do something to help! Below are four tips from Sky Nursery to help you build a pollinator-friendly garden, and a crucial message from 811: call before you dig!
1. Diversity is important
Different pollinators favor different plants, and different plants have different bloom times. Diversifying the plants in your garden helps ensure that bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators can all find plants to feed on throughout the seasons.
Sky Nursery offers several guides as to which plants serve as food for different pollinators:
Remember that planting native plants is part of environmental stewardship. Native plants by definition do well without extra water, extra fertilizer or special pesticides. They’re also easier for the gardener because for the most part, they take care of themselves. That’s a win-win for you and the environment!
2. You need water
Water is a requirement for many lifeforms, and pollinators are no different. If you want your garden to be pollinator-friendly, you must provide water. Furthermore, pollinators have to be able to access it. Because they’re relatively small, that means giving them a place to stand.
Your “water feature” could be as complex as a tiered waterfall or as simple as a bowl with a rock in it where butterflies and bees can perch to drink. Ponds, birdbaths and streams also qualify – just make sure that the water doesn’t have any crazy chemicals in it. Give the little pollinators somewhere to sit while drinking and you’re good to go! After all, you wouldn’t go to a bar without any seats in it, would you?
3. Shelter is crucial
Pollinators need areas that go undisturbed so they can set up a home base. Bumble bees build nests underground, while hummingbirds build tiny nests on tree branches. Solitary native bees such as orchard mason bees like tube-like homes. You can get creative and build an insect hotel, or just leave areas of your garden with sticks and other appealing crevices undisturbed. The pollinators will be happy, and so will your flowers, fruit trees, and vegetables!
4. Avoid pesticides, herbicides and insecticides
Rachel Carson’s arguments in “Silent Spring” are as relevant today as they were in 1962: many of the chemicals that we use to get rid of pests or weeds don’t limit their destruction to our targets. Instead, they kill other “good” species and wreak havoc on entire ecosystems.
Instead of turning to non-selective synthetic chemicals, opt for natural solutions. For instance, Neem oil is a plant-based, natural pesticide that only affects pests that are present at the time it is applied, so it won’t hurt pollinators down the line. You can also prevent many problems before they start by using good growing practices, such as choosing the right plant for the right place.
Learn as much as you can about how your plants were grown before they reached your garden. Even if you never apply a pesticide, if your plant is raised by growers that use neonicotinoids, those chemicals could remain in the plant and its nectar for years to come.
To play it safe, opt for plants grown without “neonics” – Sky Nursery has a special section for these plants, and can speak to the growing practices of all their local growers.
5. Call before you dig
Technically this point isn’t pollinator-specific, but it’s safe to say that if you hit a gas or sewer line none of the species in your garden will be very happy. To keep your garden’s inhabitants happy AND to keep your neighbors from hating you when you take out a power line, call 811 before you dig.
Building a beautiful garden feels good, but giving back to the earth by building a garden that supports pollinators is even better. To learn more about how 811 helps you dig without regrets, click here.