Did you know that this week is Pollinator Week? According to the non-profit Pollinator Partnership, since Pollinator Week’s inception in 2007, the event has grown exponentially in scope. Last year, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and 45 governors designated Pollinator Week as a week to celebrate and protect the nation’s pollinating animals.Pollinators are the creatures which assist about ¾ of all flowering plant species to move pollen from plant to plant for fertilization and creation of new seeds. About 200,000 species of pollinators are insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees. About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
Pollinators are critical to an ecosystem. They ensure full harvests of crops and contribute to healthy plants everywhere. “One bite out of every three” is delivered by pollinators, and, in the U.S., about $20 billion worth of products are produced by pollination each year. Wildlife is also dependent on pollinators for plants, fruits, and nuts, which provide direct food sources and essential cover for protection.
How we can help the pollinators: The US Botanic Garden and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) collaborated in 2004 to produce “The Great Pollination Partnership”. Following are some of their suggestions for gardeners:
Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. Put plants attractive to pollinators in clumps, rather than as single specimens. Include native plants adapted to your local climate, soil and insects. Night-blooming flowers are important to support moths and bats.
Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “doubled” flowers in which often the pollen, nectar and fragrance may have been bred out in efforts to create “perfect blooms”.
Reduce or eliminate pesticides whenever possible. If you must use a pesticide, use the ones least-toxic to pollinators as possible. Read labels carefully and spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.
Include larval host plants in your landscape. If you want colorful butterflies, you must have caterpillars first! The caterpillars WILL eat these plants, so put them where unsightly leaf damage and possible weedy nature can be tolerated (hello, milkweed). A butterfly guide will help you determine the host plants you should include.
Don’t cut down that dead limb! A dead tree or an occasional dead limb will provide nesting sites for native bees. You can build a “bee condo” by drilling holes of varying diameter about 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of scrap lumber mounted to a post or under eaves with southern exposure. Make sure these are not a safety hazard for people walking below by putting them higher than six feet from the ground.
Add to nectar resources by providing a hummingbird feeder. To make artificial nectar, use 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey or fruit juices. Place something red on the feeder. Clean your feeder with hot soapy water at least twice a week. Butterflies need resources other than nectar and are attracted to unsavory (read “rotting”) foodstuffs. Try putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water.
Learn more about pollinators. Get some guidebooks and learn to recognize the pollinators in your neighborhood. An excellent source for pollinators and the plants which attract them by region (selected by entering your zip code) is found at pollinator.org (select “planting guides”). Denver zip codes fall within the “Great Plains-Palouse Dry Steppe Province” for which the guide is not yet available. Other regional guides including parts of Colorado are available, and would serve as helpful guides until our own regional guide is published.
Hopefully, these ideas from the Pollinator Partnership and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign will assist you in making your garden more pollinator-friendly. Do so, and we all benefit.
by Mary Beth Cooper, Denver County Master Gardener