Build a Pollinator-friendly Garden

WASHINGTON Everything from the food you eat, to the wine you drink, and even the shirts you wear are all possible because of pollinators.

In fact, 80 to 85 percent of our food and clothing are the products of pollinators, says Mark Miller of the Franklin Park Conservatory and he isn’t just talking about bees. Pollinators include everything from butterflies, to bats, to birds and even humans.

But due to a variety of factors, including modern farming practices and climate change, the pollinator population is on the decline. The good news is, individuals can help revive these diminishing populations — starting with their own gardens.

Here’s how you can build a pollinator-friendly garden this summer:

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Provide the basics \n

\u201cWhat pollinators are looking for are what you and I are looking for \u2014 food, water and shelter,\u201d said Mark Miller of the Franklin Park Conservatory. \n

Set up a bird bath from which birds, butterflies and even bees can drink. And don\u2019t be so quick to clear small piles of leaves, sticks and mud from your space. \n

\u201cBy leaving a little bit of inconspicuous leaf litter, etc., you are actually providing habitat or shelter for a number of different bees and other pollinators,\u201d Miller said. \n

Kay Taub, an entomologist and the former director of the Smithsonian\u2019s Insect Zoo, leaves small shoots of dried bamboo in her yard and even places some in the ground to attract native bees, who use the tunnels to make nests. \n

Worried that attracting bees to your yard will welcome a summer of stings? Taub explains that many native bees are referred to as \u201csolitary bees\u201d because they don\u2019t live in large colonies. \n

\u201cAnd they don\u2019t sting because of that; they don\u2019t have a whole hive to protect,\u201d she said.\u00a0\n

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Don\u2019t use pesticides \n

WTOP garden editor Mike McGrath says there are three things you can do in your garden to make it more pollinator-friendly. \n

\u201cDon\u2019t use pesticides, don\u2019t use pesticides and don\u2019t use pesticides,\u201d he said. \n

\u201cPesticides are totally ineffective against modern pests. It\u2019s just a waste of time, money \u2026 and a lot of the modern pesticides in use today, the nicotine imitators, these are deadly to bees, both native and honeybees.\u201d \n

McGrath added that pesticides often won\u2019t harm the pest you\u2019re after, but could do a number on your local pollinator population. \n

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Avoid pre-treated plants\n

Not only should you avoid spraying pesticides in your yard, but McGrath says consumers need to be careful when buying plants from garden centers and other retail locations. Often, big-box stores pre-treat their plants, even native plants, with pesticides, which will kill the bees and butterflies that try to feed on them. \n

McGrath says if you buy plants labeled \u201corganic,\u201d you are guaranteed that there are no insecticides and pesticides on the plant, \u201cand it\u2019s totally safe for pollinators.\u201d \n

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Less lawn, more leaves\n

Taub says one way to make your yard more welcoming to pollinators is to have a smaller lawn and more native plants. \n

Not only is this setup perfect for those who want to encourage pollination, but it\u2019s also ideal for homeowners who want to mow their lawn less and water their gardens more infrequently. (Native plants are used to the water the area gets and thus require fewer supplemented watering sessions.) \n

For gardens in the D.C. area, Taub recommends planting asters, butterfly weed, coreopsis, goldenrod, coneflower, joe-pye weed, black-eyed Susan, milkweed, thistle and phlox. For shrubs, try serviceberry, black gum trees and buttonbush. \n

\u201cThese are plants that live here, grow easily here and will attract the native bees,\u201d Taub said. \n

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Have something in bloom all year long\n

To get pollinators in your garden, McGrath says you want to have plants blooming all year long. \n

\u201cThat means starting the season with pansies and small, early flowering spring bulbs, and ending with more pansies and fabulous fall-blooming plants,\u201d he said. \n

\u201cThe more you have in bloom, and the longer the bloom time in your landscape, the more pollinators you\u2019re going to attract.\u201d \n

Planting the early-blooming and late-blooming plants are the most important, because they\u2019re the ones feeding the native bees when the temperatures are cold and the pollinators are in need of calories, McGrath adds. \n

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Blocks of color \n

Another key to boosting your garden\u2019s pollinator population is to plant big blocks of color \u2014 not one-off plants. (As McGrath puts it: Don\u2019t go for the six-pack. If you see a flower you like, buy the whole flat.) \n

\u201cThe bigger the block of a single color flower, the more pollinators and butterflies you\u2019ll attract,\u201d said McGrath, who added that white, yellow and blue\/violet are the optimal colors. \n

\u201cPlant them tight together and you will see this amazing diversity coming in. Pull up a lawn chair and just be still. Over the course of maybe even 20 minutes, you\u2019ll see a dozen different native bees of all shapes and sizes come in.\u201d\n

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Know your native bees\n

Honeybees may be the most well-known bees, but they are not native to North America, and McGrath says their pollination is largely artificial. \n

\u201cThey depend on beekeepers to keep them alive, and in many cases, they\u2019re trucked around to different fields to kind of artificially pollinate crops,\u201d he said. \n

However, every region in the U.S. is home to hundreds of species of native bees, which Taub says do a much better job of pollinating. \n

\u201cWhat takes 100 honeybees to pollinate, Mason bees can do much more efficiently,\u201d said Taub, who is also a beekeeper. \n

To draw Mason bees to your yard, Taub says you can build a structure similar in shape to a birdhouse and drill holes of various sizes into the wood. Mason bees will likely land there and lay their eggs. \n

McGrath adds that there are also kits you can buy to build \u201cbee houses\u201d to attract native bees to your yard. \n

\u201cIf you care about having the food that you want to eat and the melons and the apples and all of the summer vegetables, then you care about bees,\u201d Taub said.\n

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Want more information? Taub recommends checking out the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation for additional tips and resources.

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