I’m always surprised that not everyone knows about the decline of pollinators, such as bees, bats and moths. Of the estimated 240,000 flowering plants worldwide, 91 percent require an insect or animal to distribute their pollen to set fruit and seed. That represents one-third of all crops grown for people, including citrus fruits, almonds, berries, squash and cotton.
Bee balm (Monarda) is one of the perennials that bees love.
This Mason Bee House hangs in our Burlington, VT, display gardens.
“Aaarrrggh! Why do you have a hotel for bees in your backyard?” That’s a common reaction to my Mason Bee House.
That’s because not everyone knows about the decline of pollinators, such as bees, bats and moths. Of the estimated 240,000 flowering plants worldwide, 91 percent require an insect or animal to distribute their pollen to set fruit and seed. That represents one-third of all crops grown for people, including citrus fruits, almonds, berries, squash and cotton. Fewer pollinators means less food.
My skeptical guests will usually hear a passionate pollinator plea from me. I describe the fascination of watching a bee travel from flower to flower, disappearing into each blossom and emerging, covered in pollen. I tell them that only the female mason bee has a stinger, and she only stings when she is trapped. I point out that beekeepers have noticed a 30 percent decline in their colonies again this spring. And when I’m done, I’m often asked, “OK, I don’t want to be that close, but I don’t want to hurt them either. What can I do?”
At Gardener’s Supply, we’ve been talking about pollinators for years, and our advice is simple:
- Use organic pest controls: Many pesticides — even organic ones — are toxic to bees and other beneficial organisms. There’s no need to use powerful poisons to protect your garden from insects and diseases. In the short term, they may provide a quick knock-down to the attackers, but they also kill beneficial organisms. In the long term, you expose yourself, family, pets and wildlife to toxic chemicals, and risk disrupting the natural ecosystem that you and your garden inhabit.
- Plant nectar- and pollen-rich flowers: The most important step you can take is to plant a pollinator-friendly garden. Choose nectar and pollen-rich plants like wildflowers and old-fashioned varieties of flowers. A succession of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs is best so nectar and pollen will be available throughout the growing season. Also, include plants like dill, fennel and milkweed that butterfly larvae feed on. Reduce lawn areas and replace them with native wildflowers or shrubs. You can also add special feeding stations, such as our Butterfly Beacon.
- Provide shelter: Butterflies, bees and other pollinators need shelter to hide from predators, get out of the elements and rear their young. Let a hedgerow or part of your lawn grow wild for ground-nesting bees. Let a pile of grass cuttings or a log decompose in a sunny place on the ground. Or, allow a dead tree to stand to create nooks for butterflies and solitary bees.
If you do want to be up close and personal with the bees, please join our friends at The Great Sunflower Project. More than 100,000 citizen-scientists are helping conservation efforts by planting bee-friendly plants and counting the bees for 15 minutes each week this summer and beyond.
- All About Pollinators
- Attracting Beneficial Bees
- Attracting Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Other Pollinators
- Backyard Habitat: Attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects with our unique accessories for backyard wildlife. Our line of birding and backyard habitat products are made of quality materials and are designed to be functional as well as attractive.