This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Roughly ten or so years ago, the US Senate made a unanimous decision (can anyone remember the last time the Senate made any kind of unanimous decision?) to establish a pollinator awareness week in response to the worldwide concern over the decline of pollinators.
Since then, there have been multiple organizations that have jumped on the band wagon to help educate all of us about this important topic.
If you conduct an internet search on anything related to “pollinators,” you will find all sorts of references from government organizations to non-profits that are working with gardeners like you and me to increase our knowledge on how to be better stewards of these important creatures.
Here is some information I gleaned from the website www.pollinator.org.
Pollination, in case you didn’t already know, is the process of moving pollen grains between two flowers of the same species, or within a single flower, by wind or animals that are pollinators.
About 75% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators and over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals. The rest are insects such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths.
Worldwide, approximately 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated in order to produce the goods on which we depend. It’s not hard to figure out that a reduction in the number of pollinators (specifically bees) can have a devastating effect on our food supply.
Speaking of bees, it’s good to know that most species of bees don't sting. Although all female bees are physically capable of stinging, most bee species native to the U.S. are "solitary bees” that do not live in colonies and do not sting unless they are physically threatened or injured.
Only honey bees are defensive and may chase someone who disturbs their hive. It has been my experience that on a sunny day when the bees are busy working on the flowers, they have little interest in me and we both can peacefully coexist in the garden just fine. Unless you are allergic to bee stings there is little to worry about.
As gardeners, there are several things we can do to encourage pollinators into our yards.
For one thing, we can reduce or eliminate our use of insecticides. Whether synthetic or natural, most insecticides are toxic to bees.
We can create pollinator-friendly habitats with native flowering plants and non-invasive exotic varieties that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen, and homes. We have such an incredible variety of annuals and perennials to choose from (not to mention flowering shrubs and trees) that there is no excuse for not having a rich source of pollen and nectar almost year around in our gardens.
Many of us have embraced the practice of installing mason bee houses in our gardens, but let’s not forget that bats will also pollinate our flowers in addition to eating those nasty mosquitos. Bat houses are available at most garden centers and are easy to install.
When it comes to supporting pollinators, variety is the spice of life. The more flowers and blooming shrubs we can cram into our gardens the happier our pollinator friends will be, not to mention that we will benefit from the beauty that surrounds us.
In the name of good pollinator stewardship, go dig up a little more lawn, widen those flower beds and remember that your favorite cup of coffee, glass of wine, or chocolate bar wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for pollinators.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, Washington and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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