Celebrate National Pollinator Week
Established by the U.S Senate in 2006, National Pollinator Week each June celebrates the impact of pollinating insects, birds and animals on the ecosystem. Essential for crop development, these busy gardeners carry pollen between flowers, fertilizing plants to allow the development of fruits and seeds. How important are pollinators? Without them, there would be no apples. No chocolate. No tomatoes or strawberries. Many of the fruits we take for granted would disappear. With pollinators like honeybees seeing significant population reduction from disease and environmental issues, these garden helpers could use a little attention.
“National Pollinator Week is an opportunity to make people aware of the importance of pollinators,” says Dr. Richard Fell, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech and Pollinator Health Advisor for the National Pest Management Association. “We’ve seen decline in many of our pollinators. Awareness of problems and concerns matters and there are things the average homeowner can do to make a difference.”
“Eighty percent of the plants out there are flowering plants,” continues Fell. “Most require some sort of pollen vector (interactive agent) to continue. Creating a favorable landscape for pollinators is beneficial and that may start with someone putting a few attracting plants in their yard. That may not make a huge difference on its own, but as awareness grows, maybe a neighbor does the same thing and awareness spreads. An environment is created that supports pollinators by adding these nectar sources to draw pollinators.”
Dr. Fell offers a few tips on how to help pollinators thrive in your own back yard.
Know your pollinators. “The pollinator complex is more than just honeybees,” explains Fell. “There are other types of bees, there are butterflies, there are beetles and flies.” Bats and many birds are also helping to pollinate plants. Keep an eye out for productive pollinators and encourage their return by maintaining a supportive environment.
Add pollinator-friendly plants. Flowers, butterfly bushes and flowering vegetable plants will all draw pollinators to the yard. When selecting plants, avoid hybridized plants (which may provide less pollen) and consider a few nectar-rich exotics, but make sure to include native plants.
“One of the issues that has come up,” says Fell, “is that urbanization has reduced the availability of native pollen producing plants. If you are aware of that, it isn’t difficult to incorporate those native plants in and around your garden.”
Limit pesticides. “In addition to providing pollen and nectar sources, another thing the home gardener can do that will make a big difference is to be very careful with how they use pesticides. be cautious about what those pesticides will do and when spraying, never spray blooming plants.”
Learn beekeeping. Obviously, it’s not for everyone, but beekeeping is on the rise and is helping to bring honeybee numbers back up. Check with local beekeeping clubs or organizations. Most are happy to talk and many even offer classes or mentoring programs for the new apiarist.
Respect pollinating insects. “People are sometimes afraid when they see stinging insects. Know that they are not out there to attack you or hurt you,” reminds Fell. “Although these insects may be able to sting, they are out there to forage. They are offering a great benefit and should be left alone to do what they do. “
“Pollinators are extremely important to the environment. They allow plants to produce food not just for us, but for wildlife, for small animals and birds. And it just starts there. It's a cascading effect and the home gardener can play a part," Fell concludes. "We can all make a difference.”