This is National Pollinator Week so let's have a talk about the birds and the bees. And the bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps and all those other critters that help carry pollen.
Protecting pollinators should be our goal year-round, but in June, we focus on how these beneficial creatures help our ecosystems and allow us to bring food to our tables.
Pollinators, according to the National Wildlife Federation, are responsible for one of every three bites of food that we take.
Of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products, almost 80% require pollination by animals, the U.S. Forest Service reports. Pollen, that yellow dust, bears a plant’s male sex cells and is a vital link in the reproductive cycle of plants.
Visits from bees and other pollinators also result in larger, more flavorful fruits and higher crop yields. In the United States alone, pollination of agricultural crops is valued at $10 billion annually, the forest service says.
One great way to help pollinators is by planting native and noninvasive plants that produce both pollen and nectar and will attract them.
The good news is that every plant counts, and even small actions can help.
Incorporate a wide variety of plants in your garden to provide plenty of choices for your visitors. You'll also want to design your garden so there is a continuous succession of colorful, blooming flowers from spring to fall.
Heirloom flower varieties are great additions to a pollinator-friendly habitat. Look for seeds in local retail garden centers and online that feature the word “heirloom” in their description.
Also, provide water for bees, butterflies and other insects. Use a shallow dish or plant saucer of water and refill it daily. Don't leave standing water or you could create a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Of course, avoid using pesticides. If you feel you must use them, apply at night when most pollinators are not active.
There are many flowering annuals and perennials that attract pollinators. Here's some: amaranths, asters, bee balm, bachelor’s buttons, black-eyed Susans, calendulas, cleome, coneflowers, cosmos, coreopsis, columbine, delphinium, gaillardia, guara, lantana, lavender, marigolds, morning glory, nasturtium, salvias, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, verbena, yarrow and zinnias.
You can also plant flowering shrubs such as abelia, American beautyberry, buttonbush, butterfly bush, blueberries, hydrangeas, roses, rose of Sharon, rose mallows and viburnums.
Flowering trees that attract pollinators are camellias, crape myrtles, eastern red bud, fruit trees, hawthorns, tulip trees, magnolias and vitex.
Be sure to plant annuals in the right season, and consider their different growing conditions.
Some plants and shrubs that do well in wet areas are: blue stars, milkweed, crinum lilies, hibiscus, spider lilies, Louisiana irises, rushes, buttonbush, Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire and rose mallows.
Sunflowers, yaupon hollies, sages, salvias, bergamots, coreopsis, compass plants and black-eyed Susans are more drought tolerant.
Use these suggestions or visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at wildflower.org and choose the “Native Plants” tab to find flowers that will work in your USDA hardiness zone.
The Pollinator Partnership has created a virtual tool kit to help with your projects at pollinator.org/pollinator-week.