Why Care About Pollinators?
Pollinators like honey bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other animals are hard at work providing vital but often unnoticed services. They pollinate crops like apples, blueberries, strawberries, melon, peaches, potatoes, vanilla, almonds, coffee and chocolate. One out of every three bites of food we eat is because of a pollinator –giving our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.
Pollinator populations are in serious decline due to disease, climate change, poor nutrition, chemical use, habitat loss, and other reasons. Pollinators that can’t find the right quantity or quality of food (nectar and pollen from blooming plants within flight range) don’t survive. Right now, there simply aren’t enough pollinator friendly plantings to support pollinators.
You Can Help Pollinators
Be a part of a nationwide effort to restore pollinator habitat by planting for pollinators. Pollinators make use of food and habitat anywhere it is found, whether on roadsides, in a schoolyard garden or a planter on a windowsill.
Here’s what a gardener like you can do to help:
Plant Natives Pollinators depend directly on plants, especially native plants. Choose native plant species when selecting plants for your pollinator-friendly garden. Native plants are considered the best choice because of their abundance of nectar and pollen in addition to being low maintenance, generally pest free, drought tolerant, ability to control erosion, good sources of food and shelter for wildlife, and naturally beautiful. Choose to plant your garden with native seeds, plants or a combination of both.
Bee More Aware Observe your garden once you’ve planted for pollinators. Educate visitors about the importance of pollinators and share how you turned your garden into a haven for bees, butterflies, birds and other animals. Inspire others to lure beautiful pollinators like butterflies to their backyards.
Bee Showy It’s important to provide pollinators with a continuous food supply. Be sure to choose pollinator-friendly plants that bloom within each of the three blooming periods: spring, summer and fall—as well as winter if you live in a warmer climate. It is especially important to plant flowers that bloom in early spring and late summer so bees have adequate food when emerging from and preparing for winter hibernation. If you have the space, plant groupings (clumps) of each plant species for a greater impact.
Bee Chemical Free Limit or eliminate use of pesticides. Pesticide use is an important consideration in any garden designed for pollinators. In most garden settings, these chemicals are simply not needed. A healthy garden with the appropriate plant species and an abundance of pollinators will support natural beneficial insects—reducing the need for pest control. Good sanitation practices like removing dead leaves and debris along with handpicking, crushing or spraying soapy water to remove plant pests can be practical and effective.
Bee Diverse Include a diversity of plants with different flower sizes, shapes and colors, as well as varying plant heights and growth habits, to support a greater number and diversity of pollinators. Include a combination of native plant species, heirloom plants and herbs in your pollinator garden. Common herbs such as rosemary, oregano, basil, marjoram, and borage are excellent bee plants. Allow unharvested fruits and vegetables to bolt (go to flower) for added bee food.
It's ideal to have host plants and nectar plants growing in your garden if your goal is to attract butterflies. Selecting what to plant varies enormously based on what butterfly species you wish to attract.
Butterflies will roam in search of food and egg-laying sites for many miles—even hundreds to thousands—of miles. Butterflies lay their eggs on host plants that the emerging caterpillars will eat. Different species of butterflies prefer different types of plants to lay their eggs on.
The monarch butterfly however is very specific and only lays her eggs on species of Asclepias - commonly known as milkweed. Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California and make the return flight in spring. Threats, including loss of milkweed habitat, are having a devastating impact on monarch populations. By planting milkweed you can help save the monarch butterfly.
What to Plant for Pollinators
The Florida Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Xerces Society, the Butterfly Conservation Initiative, and the U.S. Forest Service, has produced three educational brochures that feature information about monarchs, milkweeds, and other regional butterfly host plants.
The Pollinator Partnership offers 32 different planting guides to improve pollinator habitat, each one tailored to a specific ecoregion in the United States. Each guide is filled with an abundance of native plant and pollinator information. Enter your zip code to find your planting guide and download it for free here.
Instructor: Jeff Pettis, USDA Bee Research Lab