Whuzz the Buzz?

— Written By and last updated by

as seen in the Yadkin Valley Magazine, May-June Issue

Bee balm

Pollinator-friendly plants are a hot topic in gardening circles. People are recognizing the critical role of pollinators to humans and the environment, and redesigning their yards and gardens with pollinators in mind. Let’s breakdown the buzz on pollinators and pollinator-friendly landscapes.

What are pollinators?

Birds, mammals, and insects all pollinate flowering plants. Insects (butterflies, wasps, bees, etc) are the most common and abundant pollinators. Insect pollinators visit flowers in search of nectar and pollen. During a flower visit, an insect may “accidentally” brush against and deposit pollen on the flower’s reproductive parts. This pollen transfer, called pollination, and is necessary for plants to develop fruit and seed.

Why we need pollinators

Nearly 80% of flowering plants and over 1/3 of the world’s cropland require pollination by animals. We can thank bees alone for 75% of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts produced in the U.S. Honeybees steal the pollinator spotlight, but there are over 500 native bee species in North Carolina that are critical to the health of natural ecosystems. Honeybee and native bee populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and disease, but gardeners can help.

Gardeners take action

Pollinators need high-quality habitat with an abundance of flowers, shelter, and nesting sites. Flowering plants provide nectar and pollen to bees and butterflies, seeds and shelter for birds, and food for caterpillars. One way to support pollinators is by growing these pollinator-friendly plants and host plants for specific pollinators. Some butterflies and moths lay eggs on specific host plant species that feed and shelter developing caterpillars. Plant milkweed for monarchs and parsley, carrot, or dill for black swallowtail to attract these butterflies to your garden and support their next generation.

Planting for pollinators

Whether you’re starting a pollinator garden, or adding a few pollinator plants to your backyard, consider these factors –
1. Plant for 3 seasons! Plant early, mid, and late blooming flowers to provide habitat and food throughout the year. Fall bloomers are particularly as a pre-winter food source for bees.
2. Plant diversity! Plant a variety of flower colors, shapes, sizes, and heights to attract many different types of pollinators. Simply diversifying your landscape can improve pollinator habitat.
3. Plant in clumps! Groups of three or more plants of versus solitary plants attract more pollinators.
4. Weed-not! If possible, let winter weeds (e.g. henbit and clover) and cover crops bloom before removing. These are a valuable food source for bees as they wake up and begin foraging.
5. When possible, plant native! Native plants play an essential role in the natural food web, and are adapted to our growing conditions. By planting native, you also support many native pollinators.

Want to learn more?

Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers offer a wealth of pollinator resources. You may even want to become a certified volunteer! Contact your local Extension agent to learn more.

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