With the invention and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, farmers were able to increase food and crop production to support the world’s increasing population. But the overuse of chemicals has had a negative effect on our pollinators and ecosystems.

Pollinators are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take. They increase our crop quality and values each year by more than $15 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pollinators, specifically honeybees, have been in serious decline for more than three decades in the United States.

A large variety of pollinating insects make their homes in urban and suburban landscapes. Gardens and landscapes can be designed and managed without pesticides and herbicides so they can support ecosystems rather than harm them.

Landscapes with a wide array of pollinators help contribute to biodiversity and enhance local ecosystems in so many ways. So as you go about your spring gardening this year, consider using plants that support beneficial insects and pollinators.

There are a couple of strategies to protect pollinators, beneficial insects, local wildlife and their habitats.

There's a large variety of plants that contribute to biodiversity and support diverse pollinators.

However, some of the most commonly used plants in our landscapes are not native to the United States. In many lawns and gardens, more than 75% of plants are not native. Some of them include Japanese magnolia, Chinese mahonia, Japanese yew, Indian hawthorn, Juniperus chinensis, Camellia japonica and Rosa chinensis (roses).

Nonnative plants work fine in our landscapes because we fall on the same latitude as the countries from which they originate. However, the pests that come along with those plants can do a real number on our native plants, which have built-in chemical defenses to ward off native insects because they have evolved together.

When nonnative plants and their insects make their way here, they upset the local ecosystems.

To help improve the biodiversity of your lawns and gardens, use a mixture of plants.

Incorporating natives — such as itea virginica, Callicarpa americana, clematis texensis, anise floridanum, quercus virginicus, ruellia caroliniensis and rudbeckia texana — into a small part of your garden can make a huge impact.

Natives offer the biodiversity needed to support large ecosystems and all parts of the natural food web. The insects depend on native plants as food sources, and in turn, wildlife, birds and many mammals depend on them. These plants can also stabilize our soils and help conserve water.

As you choose, remember that natives have the benefit of being hardier plants because they are so well adapted to our soils and climates. They have less disease and insect problems than nonnatives, so you will use less chemicals, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Many local nurseries and garden centers carry native selections. 

A good read on the subject is “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard” by Doug Tallamy.

Here's some tips for supporting pollinators, beneficial insects and wildlife in your landscape:

  • Use a diverse selection of flowers, shapes and plant families.
  • Include flowering shrubs, bulbs and trees.
  • Use native plant species.
  • Plant single-flowered varieties that allow easier access to pollen and nectar.
  • Plant fewer but larger blocks of flowers.
  • Provide nesting places.
  • Reduce or eliminate insecticide use.

Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.