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The Joy of Gardening

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How Can I Support Pollinators?

Posted by Kim Ellson - Gardening

What is the current buzz about pollinators?

From the plight of the honeybee to the predicament of the Monarch butterfly, pollinators are increasingly in the news due to their drastic decline. The iconic honeybee and Monarch butterfly are however indicators of a far more widespread decline. There are over 4000 species of native bees and 700 species of butterflies in the US, and many of these are decreasing in numbers.

What are pollinators?

A pollinator is anything that transfers pollen between or within flowers, leading to fertilization and thus fruit and seed set. In Illinois pollinators are typically comprised of bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and insects. Without these beloved creatures, many of our fundamental crops would be lost, as 1 of every 3 mouthfuls eaten is dependent on bees. Pollination is also essential for seed set and therefore plant survival, so whether wildlife lover or not, we all depend on pollinators.

Why are pollinators declining?

Pollinator decline is due to a myriad of reasons:

  • Widespread use of pesticides (Neonicitinoids especially)
  • Lack of native plants
  • Lack of good quality habitat
  • Removal of winter nesting material
  • Invasive pests, plants and diseases

What can I do?

  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use.
  • Grow native plants.
  • Cultivate plant diversity.
  • Select plants rich in pollen for foraging, and host plants for reproduction.
  • Ensure a succession of blooms from early spring to late fall as a continuous food source.
  • Plant in small groupings rather than individual plants.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn.
  • Practice natural lawn care; leave lawn clippings, apply compost/organic fertilizer, no pesticide use.
  • Embrace flowers in your lawn; clover and dandelions are excellent pollen sources.
  • Leave perennials over winter; do not cut down and remove plant materials. Many butterflies and bees overwinter in hollow plant stems or leaf litter.
  • Allow leaf litter to remain.
  • Avoid hybridized plants as these have little pollen; select natural forms.
  • Provide a water source.

If you wish to provide a pollen source but are not ready to grow natives, find out which common garden plants are good pollen producers. Some are very suitable; Zinnias, Cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, Alyssum, Crocus, Allium, Anemone, Sedum, yarrow, butterfly bush, Caryopteris and Russian sage. Allowing herbs to bloom is a simple way to support pollinators who cherish mint, borage, fennel, cilantro, thyme, lavender and rosemary.

Start small! Do not think that you need to change your entire garden. With over 95% of land in Illinois privately owned, small changes can ultimately make a big difference.

Any changes you make will benefit not just pollinators, but also yourself, because sharing your garden with wildlife is such joy that once you experience it, suddenly the thought of a garden without life buzzing around seems bleak. So enjoy the tranquil calm of watching that special butterfly fluttering between plants on a sunny afternoon, whilst soaking up the rich fragrance of your pollinator plants.

For information on sustainable gardening visit Conservation @ Home http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/conservationhome/

Native Pollinator Plants for Continuous Bloom

Latin name

Common name

Bloom period

Height

Color

Preferred conditions

Plant's pollinators

Mertensia virginica

Virginia Bluebells

Early spring

1–2 ft

Blue

Part sun

Bees, butterflies

Aquilegia Canadensis

Columbine

Spring

1–3 ft

Yellow/

red

Part sun

Bees, hummingbird

Baptisia leucophaea

Cream Wild Indigo

Late spring early summer

1.5 ft

Cream

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Pycnanthemum virginianum

Mountain Mint

Early to midsummer

3 ft

White

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Monarda fistulosa

Bee Balm, Bergamot

Early to midsummer

2–4 ft

Lavender/

pink

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Penstemon digitalis

Foxglove Penstemon

Midsummer

3 ft

White

Sun

Bees, butterflies, hummingbird

Liatris aspera

Rough Blazing Star

Midsummer

2–5 ft

Purple

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Echinacea pallida

Pale Coneflower

Mid to late summer

3 ft

Purple

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal Flower

Mid to late summer

2–3 ft

Red

Sun

Hummingbirds, butterflies

Rudbeckia triloba

Brown-Eyed Susan

Late summer, early fall

5 ft

Yellow

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Veronicastrum virginicum

Culver's Root

Midsummer to end of summer

5 ft

White

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed

Midsummer to end of summer

1–2 ft

Orange

Sun

Bees, butterflies, hummingbird

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

New England Aster

Late summer to late fall

4 ft

Purple

Sun

Bees, butterflies



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