Five Garden Tips to Help Pollinators

Honey bees are crucial to our food supply.

As long as humans need food, we will need pollinating insects. In the U.S., honeybees are especially crucial to the food supply, but the number of native bees and other pollinators has been declining for several years. While there are many reasons for the decline, one thing we can all do is help make life a little easier for the insects that do so much for us.

1. Landscape with native plants. There is no magic list of perfect pollinator-friendly plants because the magic varies from environment to environment. Trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs that grow naturally in your area play an important role in the overall ecosystem, including providing food for the pollinating insects that live there. Creating a border of native plants around a vegetable or flower garden is especially effective. Most garden centers provide a section of native plants, ask a knowledgeable gardener for recommendations if you’re not sure which plants are indigenous to your region.

2. Mix it up. A bountiful garden full of different colors, scents and shapes will attract the widest variety of pollinators. While native plants should be used as the backbone of the landscape, they don’t always provide a wide range of color or visual interest. Colorful annual and perennial plants add those pops of interest that people and pollinators enjoy. Be sure to match plantings that have the same water, soil and sunlight requirements.

Give bees a home with an insect hotel.

3. Make peace with imperfection. Eliminating pesticide use in the landscape is vital to helping pollinators. Add plants that attract insects that help with pest control instead. If you must apply pesticide, look for products made from natural ingredients, and use them sparingly. Plant damage is going to occur in places where pollinators flourish, especially plants that provide habitat for moth and butterfly larvae.

4. Lizards and frogs and snakes, oh my! Welcoming other types of small wildlife into the landscape helps create the type of mini-ecosystem where pollinators thrive. Turn broken pottery on its side to become a shelter for reptiles, include a birdbath and/or place shallow dishes throughout the garden to provide clean water for pollinators and other small animals. 

5. Give bees a home. Build or buy a “bee hotel,” or drill holes in a standing dead tree to offer habitat to a variety of bees. Leaving some garden spaces free of mulch is helpful to species who nest in the ground. If you spot a bee swarm in your yard, leave them alone. Bee colonies sometimes split when they grow too large or when the queen dies. Swarming bees are probably looking for a new home and will move on in a day or two. Call a local beekeeper for assistance if the situation is unsafe.

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