One in three bites of food provided by pollinators

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How can you help stop the decline of pollinators? June is National Pollinators Month. Most people think of bees when they think of pollinators, but pollinators also include butterflies, bats, birds, flies, and even some beetles. We can help pollinators by planting pollinator gardens of native, non-invasive pollen and nectar-producing plants. When these gardens bloom, they attract pollinators, which feeds them and in turn feeds us. Each of these creatures makes the difference between valuable fruits and vegetables on our tables or going without. As we plant and encourage these natural habitats, we’re putting food on the table, too.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites we take. Many wildflowers provide more than just something pretty to look at. Their root systems prevent erosion and many of them provide flavorful and healthful teas and herbal remedies.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pollinators pollinate more than 75% of the world’s flowering plants, and nearly 75% of our crops. Without pollinators, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds to eat, and we would miss out on many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like blueberries, squash, and almonds...not to mention chocolate and coffee...all of which depend on pollinators.

A study of the status of pollinators in North America by the National Academy of Sciences found that populations of honeybees (which are not native to North America) and some wild pollinators are declining. Declines in wild pollinators may be a result of habitat loss and degradation, while declines in managed bees is linked to disease (introduced parasites and pathogens).

We can help by planting native flowers and trees because when we provide for their future, we in turn provide for our own.

There are several ways we can help promote pollination. The first is to plant a Pollinator Garden. The most obvious need for pollinating species is a diversity of nectar and pollen sources. Make sure to choose plants that are native to your area. In Southwest Oklahoma that could be the Indigo Bush, Purple Poppy Mallow, Milkweed, White Prairie Clovers, or Indian Paint-brushes. Different types of flowers will attract different pollinators. For instance, Indian Paintbrushes will attract bees and humming-birds but Milkweed is great for attracting butterflies.

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.

Choose native plants. Native plants will attract more native pollinators and can serve as larval host plants for some species of pollinators. Check field guides to find out which plants the larval stage of local butterflies eat. Pollinator friendly plants for your area can be found in NAPPC’s Ecoregional Planting Guides. Contact your local or state native plant society for help.

Another great way to provide for pollinators is to 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 spiderwebs to construct their nests. Their nests are very hard to find because they are typically tiny, located well off the ground, and are 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. You can find out more about the plants butterflies use by researching the butterfly species of  interest.

Most bees nest in the ground and in wood or dry plant stems. Most bees are solitary nesters except bumblebees and honeybees. Bumblebees 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.

Some bees will nest in artificial nesting sites – blocks of preservative-free wood with drilled holes of different diameters. These “bee blocks” are a great way to learn about native bees because it is easy to observe them periodically. While they may provide some habitat, recent research raises concerns that these sites may provide habitat for non-native species [which may compete with our native species] and could result in increased parasitism rates on bees using them. Also, when used, it is very important to have an inner paper liner and replace it annually; otherwise if any of the bees are diseased, the disease can easily spread to the bees using the holes the next year. Note: solitary wasps will also use these for nesting sites.

Remember, if you find a swarm of bees, don’t kill them. They are most likely relocating and will usually leave on their own. If you can’t wait for that to happen, call a beekeeper in your area and they will be able to remove and relocate the swarm safely.

The National Wildlife Federation initiated National Pollinators Month as a way to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators. With pollinators on the decline, their initiative aims to increase native pollen and nectar-producing through the Million Garden Challenge.

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