If you have been paying attention to ecological news over the past decade then you have likely heard of the pressing issue of pollinator decline, particularly the decline in honeybee populations due to colony collapse disorder. Here is why it matters, according to the National Audobon Society and IPBES:
One bee can pollinate 300 million flowers a day.
75 percent of the world’s food crops must be pollinated to grow, and 90 percent of that pollination is done by bees.
Considering the key role that bees play in the life cycle of an overwhelming majority of crops, one can see the cause for concern. While the individual home gardener is limited in their ability to influence large-scale commercial practices, such as the haphazard application of potent neonicotinoid pesticides, there are numerous steps that can be taken to support healthy pollinator populations in your personal garden.
While honeybees are the quintessential pollinator, they are one of a great number of insects that assist in the pollination of food and garden plants. A reliable sign of the health of a garden is a diverse population of insects — bees, flies, moths, butterflies, and even insects traditionally known as “pests” such as wasps and mosquitoes fill specific niches as pollinators for different plants.
Knowing this, the first step to promoting pollinator health in your garden is limiting the use of pesticides. Obviously, destructive garden pests must be dealt with if there are to be any flowers around to pollinate, but there are a set of best practices that can mitigate any effects on desirable pollinators. First off, eliminate harsh chemical pesticides in favor of natural and organic products, such as neem oil or any of the other pest control products carried at Spray-N-Grow. Furthermore, only apply pesticides before dawn or after sunset to avoid times when pollinators are active. When you keep pesticide application to a minimum, you may be surprised to find that natural predators such as lizards, birds, and spiders will take over some of the work of keeping your garden pest-free. You can even investigate the methods of integrative pest management to further limit your use of pesticides. Read more about IPM methods here.
The next step is setting up your garden to attract pollinators most suited for
the plants you are growing. For gardeners in most of North America and Europe this typically includes bees, moths, and butterflies. Filling your garden with many differing plants is key to catching the attention of traveling pollinators looking for variety. Be sure to take color and fragrance into account when choosing. They more variety, the merrier. Furthermore, local wildflowers and herbaceous plants are the favorite of many pollinators and they can grow alongside your usual garden fruits, vegetables, and flowers. You can contact your favorite local nursery to assist in selecting the best perennials and local plants for your region.
Additionally, planting patches of alike plants, rather than lone specimens, can help to encourage pollinators to visit several plants of the same species, increasing the likelihood of successful pollination.
A small source of water such as a birdbath or fountain can help support a thriving pollinator population. Another handy option is to line the surface of a tray or platter with pebbles then fill it with an inch or so of water for a quick watering station. Just be sure to clean out the water regularly to prevent mosquito infestations.
A more proactive method of attracting pollinators to your garden is to actually
build a new habitat for them, giving them a home base to return to. Particularly, “bee houses” like the one pictured above are gaining popularity for attracting wild bees such as leafcutter and mason bees. These solitary cousins of honeybees take refuge in the small holes inset into the bee house, hopefully flying to your nearby garden for food and to pollinate. Building these homemade bee homes is simple — just drill small holes (roughly 1/4″ in diameter and 1/2″ deep) into any wooden block. This article breaks down building a bee house into eight simple steps.
Periodically check on the bee house to clean debris out of the holes and keep the bee house as dry as possible. With any luck you should be able to attract plenty of bees, providing a valuable source of pollination for your garden and contributing to overall bee populations.
If wood working is not in your skill set, large screening shrubs can also provide shelter for some pollinators. Some even have flowers with pollen and nectar. Two birds with one stone!