Help the Pollinators This Year

— Written By Anelle Ammons
en Español / em Português

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Pollinator gardens have really grown in popularity, but what’s all the buzz about pollinators? Whether you live in an apartment complex in the city or a sprawling farm in the country, you have the ability to impact pollinators in your space.

What is a pollinator, and why do they matter to us? Pollinators are simply animals that move pollen fro m one flower to another, allowing the plant to produce new seeds from that pollen transfer. While butterflies and bees are often the flashiest and most known pollinators, there are many others we rely on as well, such as bats, wasps, birds, and some spiders. This is exciting and important to us as humans because much of our food is produced around those developing seeds. Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have access to most fruits and vegetables that we enjoy today, so it’s vital for our existence to keep those pollinators protected.

Protecting pollinators requires a little bit of forethought. The most obvious way of helping out our pollinators is planting flowers. Having a variety of different flowers throughout the warm seasons allows those pollinators vital food in periods when they aren’t able to feed on our crops. Concentrating on having something coming into bloom when other flowers are finishing is an important

step in creating a season-long food source from early spring until late fall. Utilizing native flowers will also support our native pollinators that aren’t well adapted to non-native species. Flowers spread throughout the county also allow pollinators the ability to travel to and from the fields and into new areas with a food source all along the way. Even flowers in containers, window boxes, and balconies can support these pollinators!

Flowers aren’t the only thing that pollinators need, though. Pollinators also must have food for their young and places to lay their eggs. Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs in many of our herb plants, such as dill and fennel, and Monarch butterflies utilize milkweed species to rear their young. Knowing what types of plants the pollinators you are trying to support need is a huge step in helping them complete their life cycle. Additionally, many bee species lay their eggs in bare places in the ground or in hollow stems of now-dormant perennials. You can help these species by waiting to trim back perennials and grasses until spring and leaving some bare ground patches throughout your garden. Another idea is to set out bee hotels with wooden blocks for bees to utilize for their young.

While fall is the best time to plant a new pollinator garden, spring is another great option. If you begin planning your plantings now, you can plant as soon as the ground warms. If you have questions about how to help pollinators, give me a call at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Catawba County office (828-465-8240) or join me for a Pollinator Garden Workshop on March 23, 2019, where we will talk about building pollinator gardens and then plant our own garden outside.