In honor of this past week being National Pollinator Week, here are some fun facts about pollinators, and 3 easy steps you can take to help the save bees! (…and so many more)
Why are pollinators so important?
- Between 75% – 90% of plants need help flowering from pollinators! That means they need the help of another species to transfer the pollen, making it possible to flower and produce fruit. One out of every three bites of food you take is there as a result of a pollinator. In addition to all the important ecosystemic services they provide like increasing biodiversity, fruit yield, and overall habitat health, pollinators provide $217 billion to the global economy through their services. Without them, our entire agricultural system would collapse.
Who are they?
- Pollinators go so far beyond just bees! The number of pollinator species is somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. Insects like bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles are the most common pollinators, but there are many important vertebrates that serve as pollinators as well, including hummingbirds, perching birds, flying foxes, fruit bats, possums, lemurs, and even geckos.
Why are they in decline?
- Climate change overall has resulted in a steep decline of most insect populations, not just pollinators. Just a few leading causes of the decline in pollinator health are industrial-scale agricultural practices, the use of pesticides and insecticides that can cause colony collapse disorder, loss of habitat, specifically feeding and nesting sites, and decline in food for migratory species.
How can I help?
Luckily gardeners have the power to move away from hostile landscaping practices, and towards creating a haven for pollinators. If a small part of the 40 million acres now being devoted to lawn were converted into natural landscaping, our gardens could support far more biodiversity and sustain much more life.
1. Plant Natives!
Native plants are essential for creating an inviting space for pollinators. Many species have coevolved with native plants and need them in order to feed or reproduce. The relationship between the monarch butterfly and milkweed is a perfect example. Pollinators prefer native plants, and they typically can support far more species.
Tip: if you are looking to maximize pollinator potential in your garden, make sure you have a range of shapes, colors, sizes, and types of plants to ensure that there is something blooming all season long. While bumblebees prefer larger flowers, hummingbirds favor trumpet-shaped flowers that bees cannot access. Flowers are shaped differently so that different types of pollinators can access them. Also, opt for perennials over annuals, as their nectar and pollen tend to be of higher quality.
2. Leave the (Leaf) Litter! — Provide Water and Shelter
Learn to tolerate a little mess in your garden! Dead snags and leaf litter provide shelter for many insects. Dead plant matter provides great places for insects to nests and overwinter. 70% of native bees are ground-nesting bees, so leaving areas bare will help them tremendously.
Adding a few rocks or places to perch in your birdbath will keep insects from drowning. Consider making this cute and easy bee watering station!
3. Ditch the Pesticides, Leave the Weeds!
Sometimes the best thing you can do for pollinators is nothing. Instead of insisting on a pristine weed-free lawn, let the dandelions, clover, and buttercups bloom. They’re beautiful and provide a great source of nectar for bees.
It’s important to limit the use of pesticides when inviting pollinators to your garden. Sprays like ones that control mosquitos are non-selective and harm all insects, and can remain on flowers for hours or days after application. There is emerging evidence that these chemicals, such as the widely used neonicotinoids, can be absorbed into the plant tissue and can undermine the health of the pollen and the pollinators.
Now sit back and admire the change you have helped bring about. Even a container or two of flowers can help bring life right onto your porch. The pollinators will thank you for it, and we will too.