Q. In the last several months, I have heard a lot of talk about pollinators. This fall, I made some landscape improvements at my home. I read something recently and want encourage more pollinators to visit. Is it too late to plant now? Can you provide some information regarding suitable habitats, proper plant selection and anythin else I can do to support pollinators?
Pollinators are essential to the reproduction of a vast majority of flowering plants and food crops. Plants depend on a plentiful, healthy population of pollinators for fruit set, quality, and size. Just as plants need pollinators for survival, pollinators are extremely dependent on plants. Throughout the year, these industrious creatures rely on a wide variety of flowers to provide the nectar and pollen that serve as their food source.
Who are our pollinators? Most of us automatically think of bees, but they are only one of several species. Butterflies, beetles, moths, flies, birds and bats are also instrumental in the success of our cultivated and natural habitats. What you do in your own backyard greatly affects pollinator activity and health not only in your garden, but in your community as well since these animals are always on the go. Adequate provision of food, water, and shelter are essential to increasing pollinator numbers.
When selecting and planting food sources, diversity of plant material, bloom season and plant groupings are crucial to success. While there are many lists of numerous pollinator plants, be sure to select those that are adapted to our climate (please see the table at the end of this article). It is also necessary to provide a clean, reliable water source, whether natural like a pond or stream, or man-made such as a bird bath or even rocks that serve as puddling areas. Pollinators need sources of water for many purposes, including drinking and reproduction. The provision of some type of shelter is another key component to increasing your pollinator population. Pollinators need sites for roosting and nesting as well as protection from severe weather and predators.
Minimizing pesticide use is an extremely important (and often overlooked) step in the support of pollinators. Bees and other pollinators are easily injured by many insecticides so it is important to use them only when absolutely necessary. In the event that insecticides are required, be sure to choose one that is the least toxic to bees. Also, it is important to consider the formulation of the insecticide. Dust formulations are particularly dangerous to bees because they stick to their bodies and are then transported back to the hive. Application timing of the insecticide is also crucial. If you must apply an insecticide in an area where bees are active, do so only late in the evening or early in the morning when bees are less active.
I hope these tips are helpful! With a little research and proper planning and planting, you can increase the number of pollinators calling your area of the world home.
Written by Bethany O'Rear, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Regional Agent at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
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