As the U.S. summer begins each year in June, trees, flowers and native plants in gardens throughout our communities begin to come to life. And the mass of miscrospores we call pollen that is floating in the air causing some of us to sneeze, is vital to the lives of the plants that make summer so vibrant.
Pollination happens when pollen moves from one flower or plant to another of the same species. Wind and water can help move the pollen around, but plants that aren’t self-pollinating will also benefit from the help of flying insects, like bees and butterflies. Other animals brushing past these pollinating plants can also help.
Pesticides and habitat loss can hurt species that pollinating plants depend on, like the western bumblebee, which is less common than it once was. Several types of butterflies are also seeing their populations dwindle.
It’s important to try and plant native species in your garden. These are the plants, flowers and trees that are native to the area in which you live. They have adapted to local growing seasons and soil types.
The pollinators that plant species need typically feed on native species, like the hummingbirds that drink nectar from certain flowers and the bees that might prefer sunflowers, for example.
In some areas, even large mammals that feed on certain types of fruit might be pollinators, along with birds.
Pollinators use a number of ways to find flowers including looking for UV light patterns and what are called nectar guides, Ohio State University notes.
Pollination is massively important to the U.S. economy too, as well as your home garden. Cornell University found that insect pollinators like bees contributed to at least $29 billion each year in U.S. agriculture profits.
Insects pollinated nearly 60 crops including berries, almonds, squash and apples.
The western honeybee has been described as the most “dependable” pollinator in agriculture.
While wasps visit flowers at times, they depend on insects and spiders to feed their young, so aren’t considered reliable pollinators.
Planting a garden that pollinators love
When reinvigorating your spring and summer garden, it’s important to think about the environment in which pollinators thrive.
Pollinator-friendly gardens help bring pollinating species not only to your home, but to your entire community.
Try not to use weed cloth or mulch that is bulky. Most native bee species nest underground, so try and allow them the ability to do that in your garden.
Wood-boring beetles love rotten logs and burrows. Some fallen plant materials can be good to leave on the ground.
Avoid chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, as they kill pollinators. If you live at a distance from wild areas, it may take time to see pollinators show up in your garden, but keep at it.
Try to plant large bunches of various plant species to entice more foraging by animals. Plant flowers that bloom throughout the growing season. Oregon grape in spring, and aster or rabbit brush work well for fall. Willow and currant also work well for spring.
Make sure you have a good diverse mix of native plant species as well. A mix of flowering native plants in your garden will entice butterflies and moth caterpillars.
For trees, maple, linden or crabapple are good choices. Herbs like basil, catmint and lavender also do well.
Perennials like milkweed and purple coneflower are going to help make your garden a pollinator’s paradise.
Also don’t forget about plants that you might be able to use in your cooking. Dill, oregano, and fennel are great options!
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