Summer is a time to celebrate and encourage pollinators in our yards and gardens. Insect pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles do not need a lot of space. They can live in a suburban yard, downtown park, or school yard.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Xerces.com) recommends four simple steps to make it easier on pollinators in our yards. First, grow pollinator-friendly flowers such as native sunflowers, asters, goldenrods, ironweed, salt and pepper bush, purple coneflower and other wildflowers, African blue basil, anise hyssop, zinnias, and salvias. Secondly, provide nesting sites by creating proper habitat. Third, avoid pesticides. And finally, spread the word about pollinators.
Before writing this article, I went outside to my pollinator patch/butterfly garden to seek inspiration. Many shiny green sweat bees and other small bees were diligently working the purple coneflowers. Bumblebees were nectaring on the blue salvia. Even the waning flowers of Greek oregano were abuzz. The pollen sacs on the legs of some tiny yellow/brown bees were bursting with pollen collected from the small brown-eyed Susan flowers of Rudbeckia triloba. If you plant them, they will come is an apt phrase in describing the pollinator garden. I am always amazed at the numbers of bees and other insects that show up in our yard when these plants are in bloom. The key is to have things blooming throughout the season. This includes native trees and shrubs in your yard as well – the early blooming redbuds and blueberries are ideal as are the later blooming woods hydrangea and American beautyberry that always surprise me with pollinators.
The second piece of advice (provide nesting sites) from Xerces is perhaps the hardest to implement for most of us because we have always been taught to neaten up our yards. Most of the insect pollinators are solitary bees that nest or overwinter underground or in vegetative stems that have died back. These gentle solitary bees are not to be confused with aggressive yellow jacket wasps and hornets. It is a good thing to allow areas of weak lawn in the sun that might become habitat for miner bees. It is a good thing to let some of the old stalks of wildflowers like goldenrod persist. It is a good thing to not cut back last year’s pokeweeds, which have hollow stems that provide habitat for pollinators. I am the first to want to trim up the elderberry branches, removing dead wood, but I remind myself to relax a bit because a solitary bee may nest or overwinter in its hollow stem.
You can help spread the word by sharing plants, enthusiasm, and information with neighbors. You can even order an attractive Pollinator Habitat yard sign from Xerces.com. I have watched many walkers in the neighborhood stop to read this sign in our yard.
Donna Legare is retired co-founder of Native Nurseries and serves on BHNA Board.