Ten years ago the U.S. Senate's unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as "National Pollinator Week" marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.
Pollinators need your help! There are some simple things you can do at home to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance:
1) Plant a Pollinator Garden. The most obvious need for pollinating species is a diversity of nectar and pollen sources. Consider the following when choosing plants for your garden:
Choose plants that flower at different times of the year to provide nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season.
Plant in clumps, rather than single plants, to better attract pollinators.
Provide a variety of flower colors and shapes to attract different pollinators.
Whenever possible, choose native plants. Native plants will attract more native pollinators and can serve as larval host plants for some species of pollinators.
2) Provide Nesting Sites. Different pollinators have different needs for nesting sites.
Hummingbirds typically nest in trees or shrubs, and use plant materials, mosses, lichens, and spider webs to construct their nests. Their nests are very hard to find because they are typically tiny, located well off the ground, and are very camouflaged to protect from predators.
Many butterflies lay eggs on specific plants (host plants) that their young (caterpillars) eat. For example, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants.
Most bees nest in the ground and in wood or dry plant stems. Most bees are solitary nesters except bumble bees and the non-native honeybees. Bumble bees have been found nesting in holes in the ground abandoned by mammals, in openings in stone walls, in abandoned bird boxes, and other cavities.
Ground nesting sites: Simply maintaining a small, undisturbed patch of well-drained bare or sparsely vegetated ground may provide nesting habitat for ground-nesting bees. It is best if the site faces south so that it gets the most sun possible during the day, and is not inundated by a sprinkler.
Wood nesting sites: Carpenter bees will chew their own burrows in wood, while many other bees use holes or cavities that are already in wood or dry plant stems.
If it's not a safety hazard, consider leaving a dead tree or limb undisturbed to provide natural nesting habitat.
When pruning shrubs if you notice stems that are hollow or soft inside (e.g., raspberries, roses, sumac, elderberry, goldenrod, coneflower), cut some stems back to a foot in height to provide bee nesting sites.
3) Avoid or Limit Pesticide Use. Pesticides can kill more than the target pest. Some pesticide residues can kill pollinators for several days after the pesticide is applied. Pesticides can also kill natural predators, which can lead to even worse pest problems.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service www.fws.gov/pollinators
The Pollinator Partnership www.pollinator.org
Photo credit: Joe Kopek