The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Promise to Promote Pollinators in 2015

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Just imagine your dining table without the delectable fruits of apples, blueberries, cherries and peaches or the versatile pumpkin or zucchini. Flowering plants and their associated pollinators are responsible for the vast majority of our food: an estimated one out of every four mouthfuls of food and beverage. Pollinators are also crucial, directly or indirectly, for production of dyes, medicines and fibers such as cotton.

Pollinators also sustain plant communities by pollinating native plants that provide food, nesting and shelter for wildlife. Pollinators include butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds, bats, flies and wasps. In North America 99% of pollinators are insects and of those, most are bees.

Unfortunately pollinators are in perilous decline. Yet gardeners can be a positive influence on pollinator populations and diversity if we all do our part to plant pollinator-friendly gardens.

A pollinator-friendly garden is also a people-friendly garden as we enjoy many of the same plants. We just need to add a few elements to provide pollinators with food, water, shelter and a nice place to raise the "kids".

Here are a few of the basics for a pollinator-friendly garden.

Food for pollinators is generally provided by flower nectar and pollen; however, some pollinators such as butterflies need specific plants such as milkweeds for monarchs to serve as food for caterpillars. To attract particular pollinators conduct additional research to determine their needs during each of their life stages.

Good pollinator plants include asters, beebalm, native roses, Joe Pye weed, purple coneflower, great blue lobelia, white indigo, lead plant, blazing stars, beard tongue, bellflowers, hollyhocks, monkshood, snapdragons, sunflowers, foxglove, mints, tomatoes, butterfly weed, goldenrod, larkspur, milkweeds, herbs and many more bee-utiful flowers.

When possible choose native plants and not cultivars of native plants. Ornamental changes within cultivated plants may not provide the necessary attributes of a good pollinator flower. Exotic plants such as butterfly bush can provide food for bees and butterflies but cannot sustain the complete life cycle of pollinator insects. In addition native plants provide food for a greater diversity of pollinators.

Plant masses of similar flowers and design areas to have flowers blooming all season. Aim for a variety of flowers blooming at once. Add easy-to-grow annual seeds such as zinnia and sunflower to existing perennial flower gardens to support flower diversity.

Convert a section of your lawn to a "Pollinator Pocket", a suggested planting plan developed by UI Extension educator, Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists. Designs developed for an approximately 5 foot by 5 foot space and include options for a variety of sun, shade and moisture conditions. Check out "Pollinator Pocket" at for designs and additional pollinator information.

Allow spaces between masses of flowers to provide shelter from wind and cold. Leave dead stems over the winter to provide shelter and nesting areas.

Limit, or better yet, eliminate pesticide use. When using pesticides, check with your local UI Extension office for proper timing and least toxic options.

If you are worried about luring something into your garden that can sting, keep in mind bees are not bullies looking for a fight. A happy bee is like a gardener in a garden center, focused on each flower.

Join us for the Pollinator Panel on Thursday, January 22, 2015, 4-5:30pm at University of Illinois Extension Auditorium, 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign. Speakers include: Dr. May Berenbaum (University of Illinois professor of entomology and recent National Medal of Science recipient); Emil Blobaum (beekeeper); Jason Bleich (Pheasants Forever habitat co-chairman) and Sandy Mason (UI Extension Educator). Learn about threats to pollinators and things to do on your farm or residence to promote pollinators. Event co-sponsored by Prairie Rivers Network, Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District, and University of Illinois Extension.

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