Do you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, a slice of watermelon on a hot summer day or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? If you answered “yes,” then you need to thank a pollinator!
One out of 3 foods you eat needs the assistance of pollinators, including tomatoes, eggplants, beans, peas, squash, peppers, cucumbers, melons, apples, peaches and pears. Without the services of pollinators, our diets would be severely limited, making it more difficult to acquire the variety of foods needed to stay healthy.
As shared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Pollinators are nearly as important as sunlight, soil and water to the reproductive success of more than 75% of the world’s flowering plants.” However, when you think of a vegetable and fruit garden, you will realize that the purpose of any bloom is to produce viable seeds and a way for that plant to reproduce. Pollinators are there to help.
Many types of animals are part of this process. You might know that honeybees are pollinators, but you might not be aware that they aren’t native to North America. In fact, they were imported from Europe in the 1600s. Other pollinators include bats and birds, but the most common pollinators are insects.
Insect pollination is crucial to most gardens and occurs when bees, butterflies and beetles fly from flower to flower collecting nectar. During the process, pollen adheres to their bodies and is transferred to the other flowers they visit. Without these animals, many plants we grow in our gardens would not be able to complete the pollination process and, therefore, would not produce fruits or vegetables. If you are having trouble with your plants failing to produce, chances are very good that they might be missing pollinating visitors.
Unfortunately, these beneficial insects face many threats, including pesticide use on plants. Pesticides not only kill the damaging insects, but also the beneficial pollinators. Pesticides are only part of the reason that pollinator populations are in decline; there are other detrimental factors, including habitat destruction and fragmentation, decreased plant diversity and the spread of invasive species.
Perfectly manicured, weedless lawns have taken the place of flowered meadows and woodland borders. Native vegetation is being replaced with nonnative landscaping. When we remove food sources and nesting sites for pollinators, we make it harder for them to flourish.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to increase the number of pollinating guests that visit your yard.
- Plant a diverse garden that also will attract pollinators to your fruit trees and vegetables.
- Choose flowers with a variety of colors and shapes, planted in clumps, rather than single plants, to attract a variety of visitors.
- Be sure to plant for each season, from spring to fall.
- Provide a water source by incorporating a shallow dish, bowl or birdbath with half-submerged stones for perches.
- Apply insecticides correctly, as many brands target all insects, both beneficial and harmful. Do not use insecticides on food plants that rely on pollinators. Instead, try using bug controls, such as predatory insects or bacteria specific to the harmful bugs causing damage to your garden.
- Do not use overhead watering in the morning or afternoon, when most insect pollinators are active. Use drip irrigation, if possible.
– Karen Garland has been a Cherokee County Extension volunteer and Master Gardener for more than 20 years. She is a teacher in the Cherokee County school system.