• Using Plant -based Strategies
Plant-based strategies for supporting pollinators
You’ve probably read the news stories on the “insect apocalypse”: the recent steep decline in insect populations and the potentially dire consequences it holds for other animals and ourselves. It’s easy to get discouraged listening to all the doom and gloom, but the good news is that this is an issue we can all play a part in resolving. The solution is so simple: plant something. Plants and their flowers play a crucial role in sustaining insects, and they in turn sustain everything that eats them, and on up the food chain.
It’s Pollinators’ Week, June 22-28
We all love to see butterflies and hummingbirds in our gardens. As gardeners we are lucky to have the opportunity to use our plantings to support pollinators. This means supporting the whole insect ecosystem that sustains the flashy pollinators that tend to get all of the attention. This article highlights the important place that insects have in sustaining life for all of us. Learn more about which plants to use, why sunny gardens are a key, why planting multiples of a single plant is important, why some chewed leaves are a good thing and references to take your garden to the next level of support for insect ecosystems. And that is just a start
Pollination is more than aiding in the creation of beautiful plants, it is essential to ecological survival. All plants need to be pollinated and the human race depends on pollinators for our world’s survival. Our food and plant-based products require pollination, which creates higher crop yields and more flavorful fruits. Did you know that more than half of the world’s healthy fats and oils, like sunflower oils and canola, come from pollinated plants?
Take a breath of fresh air and thank pollination. Pollination produces flowering plants, which in turn create breathable oxygen for our world. Since levels of carbon dioxide have been increasing at an alarming rate in the last century, pollination is the key to keeping our plant population thriving. Without pollinators, our plant population would decline throughout our world.
Plants also help our water system and prevent soil erosion. The water cycle depends on plants to return moisture back to the atmosphere and we need pollinators to keep those plants thriving
Finding the Right Plant
The relationship between plants and insects is a vital, even foundational, aspect of our ecosystem, and it’s well past time for us to rid ourselves of an antiquated “bugs are yucky!” mindset. Inviting insects to your garden and observing their behavior, watching them interact with each other and with your plants is truly one of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of being a gardener. Even if you’ve never planted a thing in your life, it’s not too late to get started and take the first step toward a better environment. Here are some tips to help you pick the right plants, plant them in the right places, and grow them with maximum benefit to insects – as well as to you and your community.
A place in the sun
When planting to support pollinators, prioritize spots that get at least six hours of sun. Insects need the sun because their body temperature is dependent on their surroundings, and they quickly become sluggish and inactive in cool, shaded conditions. Plus, plants in the sun will bloom more, their flowers will produce more nectar, and will see far more pollinator activity than plants in the shade. Though there are plenty of shade-tolerant plants that can benefit pollinators, a sunny site is key to supporting pollinators.
Host a banquet
To sustain all types of pollinators throughout the garden season, you need plants that attract them from the earliest rain to the end of the season for annuals To do this well takes planning and research before you buy. Most people’s gardens tend to favor early-blooming plants (annuals) like morning glories. lilies, geraniums, inpatiens, look great during this period and peter out later. Both you and the pollinators will find reward in expanding your garden to include plants (perenials) that bloom for one season and beyond. Late season blooming plants, like hibiscus, abelia, allamanda heptacodium, and caryopteris are especially crucial, since they provide new and rich nectar sources when pollinator, s need them most – before they go dormant, lay eggs, and/or migrate.
One way to accomplish this is to include all three main types of plants in your garden: annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Annuals bloom quickly for one season helping to make up for any lulls between the bloom of perennials and shrubs. Combining all of these plants keeps your garden interesting to you and to pollinators.
The necessity of native plants
Native plants are a key component of any garden for pollinators. Insects have evolved to rely on these plants for food, shelter, and reproduction, so they hold particular appeal. Even if a plant is not native to your specific area, you’ll likely find that native plants, in general, attract more or perhaps different pollinators than non-native plants do. A garden doesn’t have to be 100% comprised of native plants to support pollinators, but it should contain at least some native perennials and shrubs.
Take it to the bank
When creating a pollinator garden, avoid planting just one of anything. It’s easier to create more naturalistic designs by grouping plants in odd numbers (3, 5, or 7 are all good numbers for residential landscaping), plus creating banks of plants encourages uninterrupted foraging for pollinating insects. It’s kind of the horticultural equivalent of your reaction to seeing a plate heaped with cookies versus a plate with just one. Abundance is simply more enticing!
Let them eat leaves
Many people have an immediate negative reaction to seeing the leaves or flowers of their plants being chewed. And it is true that there are pest insects (Japanese beetles, for example) that cause enough damage that they may need to be managed. However, native insects feeding on leaves is completely natural and a sign that you are truly supporting pollinator populations. In fact, a caterpillar won’t turn into a butterfly or moth unless it feeds on leaves for several weeks first. If you see holes in the leaves of a plant, don’t automatically assume that chewing means something bad is happening – spend some time digging into the cause. Plants can easily withstand insects feeding on their foliage, and except in a few extreme cases, won’t suffer or be set back by it.
Don’t use pesticides
Obviously, if you are trying to support insect life, using chemicals or other strategies (like sticky traps or even non-native praying mantis releases) that kill insects is going to be counter-productive. The truth is that there are few cases where pest insects become so serious that they need control, and that by treating your garden as an ecosystem of multiple species working together to support one another, you create a self-sustaining predator-prey balance – provided you refrain from spraying pesticides, whether they are organic or conventional.
This approach applies to more than just insects. For example, moles are important predators of grubs, and can play a key role in managing Japanese beetle and other pest beetle populations, so rather than get out the trap or poison at the first sign of a mole tunnel, think of them as free pest control.
Get to know your new neighbors
It won’t take long for pollinators to begin stopping by your garden to check out the offerings. You can start making a difference today. What are you waiting for? Get out there and plant something. Let’s stop the apocalypse together!
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