by Andrea Knepper, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont
BOLTON – Many home-grown fruits and vegetables require pollination to develop fruit and seeds. Approximately 75 percent of all food crops grown in the United States depend on bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators. However, pollinator populations worldwide are decreasing due to habitat loss, disease and environmental contaminants.
We can all support pollinators by creating hospitable areas in our home gardens. Beyond choosing pollinator-friendly plants, add features to your garden that will encourage pollinators to visit and stay. A welcoming pollinator space benefits both the pollinators and your garden.
A diverse selection of native plants is the backbone of a hospitable pollinator garden. When choosing plants, look for a variety of colors and flower shapes. Group a few of each type together. This helps pollinators find what they are looking for and forage efficiently.
Ideally, you will have flowers blooming throughout the season. Consider this when making selections.
For help, check out the “Vermont Pollinator Habitat Plant Palette” on the Gardening Resources page of the University of Vermont Extension Community Horticulture website (go.uvm.edu/garden-resources). Click on “Pollinators.” This resource lists plants by flower color, bloom time and the pollinators that each attracts.
Pollinators also need a water source. This can be as simple as a shallow pan with water. Add stones or marbles for them to land on while drinking. Change the water every few days to avoid pests laying eggs.
At the end of the gardening season, leave some plant material on the ground for nesting sites. Leaf litter, piles of sticks and uncut grass are desirable overwintering locations. When cutting back dead plants, cut to a few inches above the ground. The hollow stalks provide winter shelter.
Some pollinators may enjoy a more formal nesting site. Bee boxes, bat boxes and bug hotels add visual interest to the garden and provide shelter and nesting space for pollinators. Many can be constructed easily from found materials and require little maintenance.
Instead of using pesticides and chemical fertilizers in your lawn and garden, try to manage pests naturally. This is more time-consuming, but pollinators and your soil will benefit greatly.
Prevention is the key here. Planning for crop rotation, companion planting, paying attention to insect life cycles and using barriers are all tools that can be used successfully to avoid the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These strategies are known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM.
[Andrea Knepper is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from Bolton.]