Keeping Pollinators Happy

With the decline of European honeybees, corporate agriculture and home gardeners alike are sharing a concern about crop security--will we have enough pollinators to keep us fed? Home and commercial pesticides are certainly part of the problem, but what can be part of the solution? Regular homeowners and native pollinators, that's who. (

Photo right: a bumblebee searches through blooms of liriope for open buds.

)

National Wildlife published an

excellent article

in 2009 that put a price on the services of native pollinators--as much as 3 billion dollars in the U.S alone. More than two-thirds of the world's crop species are dependent on insect or animal pollinators. With that much chow at stake, its clear we need to be concerned about our pollinators. Honeybees have gotten a lot of press lately, but even our native bees suffer when we use pesticides that can't differentiate between good bugs and bad bugs.

So how can homeowners help? The first step is relatively uncomplicated, if not easy--reduce or stop your use of pesticides. Second, leave some spots of bare soil for soil-nesting bees to access. Third, diversify your landscape. If you are attempting to feed pollinators, they will need something to eat from early spring to late fall! A diversity of plants will also help to reduce some of the pests and diseases associated with monocultures--a fringe benefit. Remember that not all pollinators are bees or even insects--hummingbirds do their share, too!

What plants are best? In the photo at left, you can see a bee LOADED with pollen. The plant is goldenrod, a native with lots of blooms. The plant in the first photo,

liriope spicata

, is not native. Compare the two in bloom and be amazed--local pollinators will be incredibly numerous on the goldenrod--not so much on the liriope. The liriope will get pressed into service if the bees can't find something they like better, as a general rule. The Pollinator Partnership has incredible planting

guides

to help you select things that will make your native pollinators ecstatic.

Native bees and other native pollinators can be far more efficient than European honeybees. Orchard bees, for instance, excel at --you guessed it-- pollinating fruit trees,

out-performing honeybees

by nearly 100 to 1. A bamboo nesting site is

easy to add

--the bamboo needs to have an interior diameter of at least 1/4 inch. Orchard bees are not aggressive, so encouraging them on your property is not a potential hazard. More terrific information on these specific bees is found at

Washington State University's site

, which makes sense when you think about all those Washington State apples!

Finally, if you want more terrific information on native pollinators, you simply must check out the

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

site. The Xerces Society has created several

succinct guides

that include non-native plants such as basil and lavender that are of immediate benefit to home gardeners as well as pollinators, increasing your odds of easily finding plants to work into your landscape. Plant a few and get buzzed!

I Was Here First!

I Was Here First!

Why Designers Plant in Groups of Three

Why Designers Plant in Groups of Three