Friday, June 26, 2020

Celebrate the Pollinators

By Sharon Faircloth, Master Gardener

Shouldn’t every week be “Pollinator Week?” Awareness of the role of pollinators in our gardens, their global impact and their challenges have become much more widespread over the last ten years. Their symbiotic relationship with plants, not only determine their survival but are instrumental in ours! Pollinators are responsible for as much as one-third of our food and drink. More than 70% of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollination for producing fruits and seeds.

Pollinator week: June 22-28, 2020
The species of pollinators are primarily insects. They include many, many species of bees and beetles, butterflies and moths, wasps, beetles, flies and wasps, hummingbirds and even bats. While we think of the pollinators we see in daylight, many of the moths, beetles, some bees and bats are all nocturnal pollinators. Education is critical to conservation and protection of many of the endangered among these species. One of our most iconic butterfly species, the Monarch, is severely threatened due to habitat loss.

According to the Xerces Society, a group devoted to conservation and education, there are four steps everyone can take to improve the situation. 
  1. Grow pollinator-friendly flowers, shrubs and trees with overlapping bloom times throughout the growing season 
  2. Provide an environment for nesting sites
  3. Avoid pesticides
  4. Spread the word
In our alpine environments, we choose our plants carefully. Altitude, temperatures, microclimates, critters, and soil type all play a part in the plants we invest in. When you’re making those evaluations, consider plants that will enhance the habitat for pollinators.

One of the easiest things you can do is put more thought into when plants bloom, as well as their size and shape. Bees prefer variety and like flowers of similar structure, planted in layers starting with trees, then shrubs, then perennials, grasses and groundcovers. Monarchs, as another example, like nectar-rich flowers and milkweed – much of which has been lost to habitat decline and pesticide over use and or misuse. 

Buddleja Purple Haze Butterfly Bush
Some plant ideas for high altitude are Amelanchier alnifolia (Serviceberry), Callirhoe involucrate (Winecups), Linum lewisii (Blue Flax), Penstemons of many varieties, Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), Salvias, Nepetas (Catmint) Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly everlasting), Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry) and Campanula rotundifolia (Harebells). All are sun loving as are most pollinators. You can also add bright colored annuals to attract hummingbirds, although highly cultivated plants don’t yield much nectar.
Nepeta (Catmint) and Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
Providing habitat for nesting is just as important as plants. Ground nesting bees like a little bare earth and cavity nesting bees will look for dead wood or hollow, pithy stems. Bee “hotels” are easy to make or purchase but need to be cleaned out or replaced after a couple of seasons.

A downside to pesticides is that they often don’t distinguish between unwanted and wanted and the unintended consequences disrupt the delicate balance in a healthy ecosystem. Selecting native plants will assist in reduction of pests as they are already acclimatized. Identify your pest and the underlying cause then manage it accordingly. 

Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly Everlasting)

Perhaps the most impactful thing we can do is spread the word on the importance of supporting our pollinators. Talk to people who are afraid of bees and bats and encourage them to learn more about their habits. Bees are one of the most compelling species around! We may not have much control over corporate or large-scale farming or large-scale loss of habitat, but we do have control over our own gardens and influence over community areas. Let’s keep the pollinators in mind and make every week POLLINATOR WEEK!

For more information:

CSU Extension Fact Sheet # 5.615 Attracting Native Bees to Your Landscape

How to Create a Butterfly Garden Above 7500’ -

How to Create a Hummingbird Garden above 7500’ -

The Xerces Society -

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