Thursday, July 19, 2012 5:49 PM EDT
What exactly are pollinators, you may ask? Basically, pollinators are birds and insects — think butterfly, honeybee and hummingbird — that fertilize and produce fruit. They accomplish this by diving, floating and flying into flowers, and transferring pollen grains from male to female flower parts.
It is estimated that some 80% of plants on earth rely on pollinators to reproduce. Without pollinators, many of our favourite foods could disappear. What, a world without chocolate or coffee?!
Pollinators have been stressed by pesticides, disease and loss of habitat. So, why not work on welcoming them to your neighbourhood? You can plant a pollinator-friendly habitat anywhere, from a garden to a school yard to a ditch, alleyway, patio or deck. Better still, pollinators are beautiful and easy to install. Here is a basic primer.
Foxglove. Photo by Jennifer Tibbitt.
Plant what you have space and time for
Is part of your garden weedy and under-utilized? Toss in some wildflower seeds and a few native grasses, and see what life appears. Or, perhaps that postage-stamp lawn is getting on your nerves, remaining brown and crispy despite your weeding, watering and fussing; remove that dead grass and plant some lovely native shrubs and flowers. Or, your deck needs livening up; get a large container and fill it with a vine and some tubular red flowers. Or, plant some native grasses or shrubs as a hedge, providing food and shelter for birds and insects.
One additional point to bear in mind: If you have the space and time, try to provide food plants from spring to fall. Don't worry if you aren't able to accomplish this; frankly, any native plant is better than none.
Know your pollinators
Pollinators in general tend to be bees, but also beetles, flies, moths and butterflies. Of course, we can't forget those hummingbirds. I watched in awe the other day as one worked so hard at getting nectar from a penstemon; I felt positively lazy, but giddy with delight, watching it work.
Beebalm. Photo by Jennifer Tibbitt.
Here is a short list of readily available, pollinator-friendly plants (and of course different regions will contribute their own native plants; check with your local naturalist society for a complete list relevant to your region). Native plants are what the pollinators are familiar with; they also promote plant diversity, are low maintenance, and are really beautiful.
Purple cone flower
Joe Pye weed
Grasses (ex. gamma, little stem, northern sea oats, Huron sunrise, etc.)
A pollinator's delight! Photo by Jennifer Tibbitt.
I hope this will inspire you to welcome into your growing space one very important guest: the pollinator. Let me know in the Comments section how things grow and who comes visiting, this year or next!