Written by Mary Free, Certified Master Gardener
Did you know that some researchers estimate that over 87 percent of all flowering plants depend on animal pollinators to reproduce (Ollerton, 2011)? National Pollinator Week, 15-21 June, reminds us of the critical role pollinators play in our daily lives.
Unfortunately, many pollinator species are in decline. The loss or fragmentation of wildlife habitat (i.e., fewer floral resources and nesting sites) due to human incursion, invasive or nonnative species, changes in climate, lower genetic diversity, disease, parasitism, pesticides, and predation pose challenges to the survival of many species.
Is there anything that we can do as individuals to try to reverse these disturbing trends? Absolutely! A study published in a March 2015 issue of Science says:
“Although the causes of pollinator decline may be complex and subject to disagreement, solutions need not be; taking steps to reduce or remove any of these stresses is likely to benefit pollinator health. Several techniques are available that have been demonstrated to effectively increase floral availability in farmland. Similarly, encouraging gardeners to grow appropriate bee-friendly flowers…can also reduce dietary stress.”
You can aid pollinators by creating natural habitats on your property. A U.S. Forest Service publication, Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants, guides you in creating gardens that attract a wide variety of pollinators with a focus on bees, which pollinate more flowers—including those of about 75 percent of U.S. fruit, nut, and vegetable crops—than any other animals. It encourages you to think like a pollinator in planning your gardens, e.g., “Bee Bountiful,” “Bee Showy,” etc.
A Virginia Cooperative Extension publication, For the Birds, Butterflies & Hummingbirds: Creating Inviting Habitats, examines the habitat requirements specific to birds and butterflies. Even though it focuses mostly on species native to Virginia, this iBook has been a top ranking, free gardening resource in 20 countries from the Americas to Europe to Australasia.
Native species may differ from region to region, but birds and butterflies worldwide require the same three elements: food, water and shelter. Like people, they prefer that their food and water be close to where they live. And like people, they favor certain types of homes and certain types of food. When planning a natural habitat on your property be aware of the different plant characteristics during each season and the needs of the birds and butterflies (and other pollinators) that you want to attract. The more diverse the vegetation in terms of species, shape, size (with horizontal and vertical layers) and seasonal interest, the more diverse the wildlife it will entice.
First and foremost, though, the key to creating any inviting wildlife habitat is to “Go Native!” Native pollinators prefer native plants that are suited to local conditions. Native plants usually need less watering and maintenance and are naturally more pest and disease resistant, meaning that they require little to no use of pesticides that can harm water quality and wildlife. By using native plants, you can have a positive impact on the environment and help support pollinators and other wildlife.
So celebrate National Pollinator Week by removing an invasive species, a non-native ornamental plant or a section of lawn from your property and substituting a native plant or two or three. Design a landscape that appeals to you and to the pollinators on which we so depend.
For suggestions on native plants suited to the Mid-Atlantic Region and the types of wildlife they attract, refer to MGNV’s Best Bets to Attract Pollinators and Tried and True Plants. [Also, see Can You Identify These Pollinators? on the MGNV.org home page and on Facebook, June 15–21.]
Happy Pollinator Week! Happy (Native) Gardening!