Pollinators – Who Cares

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

So why should we care about pollinators? Considering that 75% of all flowering plants need pollinators to produce fruit or seeds, our food supply relies heavily on the pollinators, like bees, butterflies, other insects, birds and mammals. As our communities become an interruption of plant corridors, our pollinators, whether insects, birds or mammals, are having a more difficult time surviving. Small patches of plant life are just not able to support the insects needed to pollinate our food supply. And the plant life often chosen many times does not support the pollinators.

Did you ever look at a typical development in our area? What do you see? Grass, and if possible, that grass is free of dandelions (great pollinator plants, by the way), other weeds, and foundation plants that are made up of mostly evergreens (like yews, junipers and arborvitae). You may see some perennial and annual borders, but they probably don’t link into the neighbor’s plantings. Grass meets grass; plantings are confined to the foundation of buildings creating little diversity. Vegetable gardens, if any, are in the middle of the yard. The corridors that could be present to allow for lots of vegetation, food and predator protection are none existent.

Two yards connected by seamless plantings

Imagine a community that has perennial borders and flowering shrub borders growing alongside of the neighbor’s border? What if the foundation planting was 10’ wide instead of 3’and connected to a planting along that shrub border, that’s connected to the neighbor’s? Just imagine! Not only would the beauty of all the color be overwhelming, but the life that abounds would be magnificent! From butterflies, to hummingbirds, to other mammals, the excitement of the corridor would be unrecognizable from today’s typical yards. The plantings and diversity of those plantings would be great. Questions about why your zucchini flowered but never bear fruit would no longer be a typical question.

Allow shrub borders, perennials and annuals grow outside their typical limits of the foundation. Less chemicals would be needed to manage the bad insects, as beneficial insects would visit and take care of those bad bugs.

Imagine the birds you would see visiting the yard. Think of the predator protection you and your neighbors are providing. Think of the food source you are providing to the pollinators. And what about the pollinators you are encouraging to feed on those apple trees that are in the neighboring orchard, or the tomatoes your neighbor is growing, or the green beans the farmer down the road is growing - imagine the impact!

Let me give an example. My sisters live side by side. One sister is a gardener. One sister is not. Both of their husbands like order and neatness. Both the Himes and the Hallowells enjoy grass without weeds. So how do they successfully "garden" for the pollinators? Remember, their yards connect. Not only does their underground electric fence border both properties (not the line dividing the properties) to keep the dogs in, but their planting beds gently flow from one yard to another.

Inadvertently, they have provided the perfect corridor for the hummingbirds, bees and other beneficial insects. The border beds are a minimum of 10’, allowing for layering of plants, from trees to flowering shrubs, to perennials. The Himes garden has a large variety of perennials. You can visit their yard at any time during growing season and find something blooming. They have trees and flowering shrubs that offer diversity in the garden.

The Hallowells have evergreens bordering their property. And to keep down weeds, have mulched the beds beyond the drip lines of the trees. The deciduous trees have undergone the same treatment. For color, the Hallowells have containers of annuals on their deck as well as some flowering shrubs in their foundation planting. Both properties have wide foundation plantings. In some areas, the foundation plantings just about adjoin the border plantings.

The neighbor behind them has a large, beautiful vegetable garden. I’ll bet he has never had a pollination issue with his plants, like zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, or beans. Why? Probably because the Himes and the Hallowells have provided the food, protection from predators, and nesting materials needed for those insects to pollinate his crops. The evergreens are providing shelter, the flowering shrubs, perennials and annuals are providing a food source all summer long. Providing food sources and predatory shelter, as well as nesting sites are imperative to protecting pollinators, hence protecting our food supply.

Oh, and the beautiful lawns the men keep weed free? Well, the grass is getting less and less, as my sister who gardens increases the beds, and my sister who doesn’t garden –her husband increases the beds because the trees keep getting bigger and bigger, creating a larger mulched area. Are they using less pesticides on the turf? Absolutely – with less grass to maintain, they are using less herbicide, as well as spending less time running a mower (less gas, too!) They are doing the right things while keeping a tidy yard without even realizing it!

Hmm – now what would happen if the guy beside the Himes connected his water garden feature to my sister’s garden. I’m guessing he will have many more butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects visiting his garden. What about the guy with the vegetable garden? How about if he increases his planting spaces to include flowering shrubs and maybe even some perennials? Suddenly the corridor gets larger and larger and the habitat for even more variety of animals is created.

So, bottom line – get to know your environment. Those that say they don’t garden and can’t do what my sisters and their husbands have done - I don’t buy it. Even a non-gardener can create a wonderful habitat with little effort. Learn the plants that grow around you and what they provide. Make educated decisions on plantings, as it not only affects you, but your family, friends, the entire community, and the world.

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