I see numerous articles about planting gardens for specific pollinators. Especially popular right now is butterfly and bee gardens.
You can have plants that are especially attractive or needed by specific pollinators but an excellent pollinator garden will try to satisfy many pollinators.
I can tell an experienced gardener from a social gardener by their tolerance for the less attractive pollinators. It’s easy to love butterflies and not as easy to love wasps.
Some insects need nectar producing plants for long tongues and others plants for short-tongued insects.
Other insects need certain plants for the different development stages and not for nectar and pollen at all. Plus, you have to be willing to tolerate some leaf and plant damage if it’s used at the caterpillar stage of development.
All insects must have their specific needs met at the specific time of the year and specific to their development stage.
Although there are many plants that prove enticing to pollinators, here are some I’ve found easy to grow in my yard and they’ve helped increase pollinator activity.
Any kind of squash (including pumpkins and ornamental gourds.) The pollinators go crazy over the flower pollen.
Fall blooming asters are another pollinator food.
Plant herbs such as rue, chives, thyme, marjoram, catmint, other mints, yarrow, parsley, basil, lemon balm, lavender, hyssop, borage, germander, sage, savory, chamomile, rosemary, dill, betony, lamb’s ears, thyme and dandelion. These are used by both bees and butterflies.
Hummingbirds and bats are also pollinators and they will flock to the herbs bee balm, lavender, pineapple sage, hyssop, mints, rosemary, catnip, comfrey, mallow and globe thistle.
Encircling your vegetable garden with herbs will help seduce pollinators to those vegetable plants, too.
People often say they are leery having plants where stinging insects might interact with humans. If you are allergic to specific insect stings, you may not be the person to have a large pollinator garden. If you aren’t allergic, this is what I’ve found: If I don’t bother them while they’re in the process of pollinating, they don’t bother me.
Use milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in the garden early enough to provide the only plant Monarch Butterflies use for laying their eggs. 85% of all monarchs feed on these in their caterpillar stage. www.pollinator.com
Here's some of Pollinator information:
ü 20,000 – number of species of wild bees. Some species of butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other vertebrates also contribute to pollination.
ü 75% - Percentage of the world’s food crops that depend, at least in part, on pollination.
ü $235 to $577 Billion US dollars – Annual value of global crops directly affected by pollinators.
ü 300% - Increase in volume of agricultural production dependent on animal pollination in the past 50 years.
ü Almost 90% - Percentage of wild flowering plants that depend to some extent on animal pollination.
ü 1.6 million tonnes – Annual honey production from the Western Honeybee.
ü 16.5 % - Percentage of vertebrate pollinators threatened with extinction globally.
ü Over 40% - Percentage of invertebrate pollinator species (particularly bees and butterflies) facing extinction.
ü 90% of all wild flowering plants depend, at least to some extent, on animal pollination.
ü Pollinators also contribute to the pollination of plants used for biofuels, fibers, medicines, forage for livestock and construction materials.
Will your little garden make a difference in the pollinator population? Not a huge difference. BUT will lots of little gardens, set aside farmland planted with prairie plants, stopping the indiscriminate use of pesticides and not mowing all the roadsides, waterways and wooded areas before insect and wildlife finish their birthing process will make a difference.
The Genetically Modified (GM) food crop issue is a hotly debated one and the research isn’t nearly done or currently understood. One of the biggest threats to pollinators through GM crops is the loss of weeds. “Duh” you say! Weeds in field crops reduces yield, takes away from the end price and often makes picking difficult. Often these weeds were the necessary food or breeding plant for pollinators. However, they do not now have an understanding of the risk (direct or indirect) to pollinators of the chemicals themselves.
Moving away from traditional (think grandpa) farming practices and no longer having foodstuffs raised in all home gardens are cited as a major impact upon pollinators. While pointing fingers at crop farmers may be convenient for the internet reading population, assigning blame for those of us who no longer raise all our own vegetables and fruits ranks right up there, too. We must realize it’s no one thing threatening pollinators; it’s a combination of cumulative things.
The good news is farmer, garden and public land management practices are reducing the risks to pollinators. An example is while managed bees have been struggling, the wild bee population is holding firm. Since crop yields depend on both, the wild bees are contributing to the stability in pollination.
Many farmers are also reducing pesticide usage, seeking alternative forms of pest control and adopting a range of specific application practices, including technologies to reduce pesticide drift. Are all farmers participating in this? No, but then neither are all gardeners. The good news is most farm organizations (members include not only farmers but the agricultural research universities) are involved in developing best practices and the distribution of information to help farmers of every crop find the best way to increase yields, increase profit while protecting the land.
Some state land management departments are also participating in alternative methods of roadside management. I saw wheat planted down the medium of the interstate out west, poppies in Canada, wildflowers down south and a general reduction in mowing and turf grass along interstates. Illinois (always the last in the nation to think about what’s good for it’s citizens) still spends millions of dollars mowing every roadside. Both spending tax monies when it could be used elsewhere and deleting an important food and habitat for pollinators.
With the exception of California, the general populace has realized yards and roadsides that look like golf courses aren’t as healthy, beneficial nor as beautiful as a more diverse landscape.
As gardeners, it pays to be well informed about the same practices and issues used in farming. Although our end result isn’t on as large of a scale, the cumulative good is as important.