Show Local Pollinators Some Love
by Vicki Day
If you’ve heard a lot of buzz about saving the pollinators you may be wondering what it’s all about. What exactly are pollinators? Why are they important? And just why do they need saving?
What are pollinators?
Insects and animals that drink nectar from flowers, like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, beetles and even bats, and transfer pollen from one flower to another are pollinators. This is essential because it’s how plants reproduce. Pollination also makes higher crop yields, better flavor and fruit and seed production possible.
Pollinators feed the world and create ecosystems necessary for survival
Flowers, fruit, grains, nuts, vegetables, cotton, coffee, chocolate – we wouldn’t have any of them if it weren’t for pollination. It’s a really big job for pollinators: 90 percent of all flowering plants depend on pollinators to help them reproduce and generate fruit and seeds. In short, without pollinators much of the food we eat, and many products we use, would no longer exist.
Pollinators do much more than provide us with food and resources. Plants and trees use carbon dioxide for the production of the oxygen we breathe, prevent erosion through their root systems which holds soil in place, purify water and help return it to the atmosphere. Plant life also provides habitat for healthy ecosystems
Why Do Pollinators Need Our Help?
Most pollinators are insects – beetles, butterflies, moths and flies, but the best known and most talked about are, undoubtedly, honey bees.
And it’s true that honey bee populations are dwindling due to climate change, pesticides, habitat loss, disease and monoculture farming, but these factors negatively effect other pollinators as well.
Monoculture farming is the common practice of growing one crop in a large area, which limits pollinators to one nutrient source resulting in poor health. Add to that the widespread use of neonictinoid pesticides, which can kill on contact and decimate entire colonies if taken back to hives, and the problem is a catastrophic one.
But while honey bees are important – they perform roughly 80% of pollination worldwide – they are most valuable to non-native species of plants because they themselves are not native to North America and therefore not our only concern. More and more farmers are adopting organic practices and planting a wider variety of crops, but there’s more we can do, even if on a much smaller scale.
How Can We Help?
Without enough native plants to support native pollinators, competition for food sources is fierce. Out of 416 native bee species, one in four is at risk of extinction. One of the biggest things we can do for all of our native pollinators is include more native plants in our gardens and landscapes. These shrubs and flowers locally provide what’s most essential: a varied source of nutrition they can readily use to keep them all healthy and happy.
In addition to providing food, water and shelter are also crucial for them to survive and thrive. Consider not mowing as often. Your lawn is pretty much a dessert for pollinators. Mowing every two to three weeks should keep your lawn tidy and, more importantly, gives pollinators enough time to capitalize on whatever flowering plants crop up between mows. Better yet, convert part of your lawn to a meadow of native flowers, which is prime native bee habitat. And plant a variety of flowers with staggering bloom times to provide nectar from early spring through fall. A diversified garden attracts a larger number of pollinator species and creates a more balanced ecosystem.
Most native species nest in wood or in the ground. Invest in “bee hotels” or provide them with wood to nest in, like old logs. Leave areas of bare ground for those who call burrows home. Placed near flowers and water sources will help them get through winter as well.
And, yes, they need water! The best sources are shallow dishes with rocks or sticks added for them to perch on while they drink. Just be sure to replace standing water every week or so to deter mosquitos.
The bottom line is we need pollinators! Knowing what they need and creating a safe environment for them will go a long way in helping them help us. Happy pollinators make a happier, healthier world!
CLICK HERE to read more about pollinators.
National Wildlife Foundation – 10 Ways to Save Pollinators
National Environmental Education Foundation – Protecting Pollinators
Xerces Society – Bring Back the Pollinators