In recent years, everyone has gone bee crazy. These little stingers have gone from nuisances to heroes in our dialogue about the environment, joining the ranks of butterflies and birds as welcome additions to our yards and gardens. These and other pollinators are essential members of our ecosystem and are responsible for much of the food and beauty we enjoy each day. Yet it is a known fact that pesticides and habitat loss are threatening their existence. But by turning a garden, backyard or balcony into a pollinator’s haunt, homeowners can help turn the tide.
As spring draws near, it’s not too early to start planning. Consider a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen throughout the season. Planting masses of natives, herbs and other pollinator favorites like sedum, zinnias, alyssum, cosmos and columbine will attract these beauties to your landscape. Include a range of day and night blooming flowers in a variety of colors and shapes to support the widest range of our winged friends. But don’t let a lack of space dissuade you; even a window box of flowers can offer these small creatures a home.
Keep plants healthy and blooming with proper care. Match them to the right growing conditions and fertilize with an organic nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite when needed. This will promote slow, steady growth that is less susceptible to drought and pests. Plus the slow-release low nitrogen won’t interfere with flowering, which is essential to the health and wellbeing of the guests that will be feeding on those plants.
Supplement pollinators’ diets with a bit of rotten fruit. And be sure to provide trees, shrubs, parsley, dill and other florae that caterpillars, grubs and the immature stage of other helpful insects prefer to feed upon. Put away the pesticides and tolerate a few holes in the leaves. Biodiversity trumps temporary leaf damage. It’s a small price to pay for all the benefits.
Provide pollinators with shelter from predators and the weather as well. Include a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials. Leave patches of open soil for ground nesting bees and some leaf litter to shelter butterflies, bumblebees and other insects. Supplement natural shelter with commercial or homemade nesting boxes, tiny birdhouse-like structures with entrances for insects.
Puddles, fountains, birdbaths and even a damp sponge can provide needed water. Include these features with sloping sides or add a few stones to create easier access. Or sink a shallow container of sand in the ground. Keep it damp and add a pinch of sea salt to attract butterflies and bees.
Maximize the impact on the community by teaming up with neighbors. Together you can create a larger, more diverse habitat that provides pollinators with the resources they need to thrive. Your efforts will be rewarded with greater harvests in the vegetable garden, beautiful flowers and colorful birds and butterflies visiting your outdoor spaces.