Creating a Pollinator Habitat

Our backyards and gardens, no matter how small or large, can become fully functioning habitats for bees and other pollinators. Many of the smallest bees have short flight radius’ and a small to medium yard could be their entire world. The first step in making a pollinator paradise is to give up the notion of the “perfect lawn”. The perfect lawn is the imperfect lawn.  The Perfect Lawn for Pollinators

The following suggestions will help in creating a pollinator paradise.

  1. Avoid all Pesticides: The biggest and first step to a healthy habitat is to give up all pesticides. This includes no insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. Many of the plants killed by herbicides include dandelions and other broad leaf plants that are beneficial pollinator plants.
    • Buy your plants from reputable sources and make sure they are neonicotinoid free. This is a systemic insecticide that is already in the plants sold at most commercial stores.
    • Buy from local nurseries or from companies that advertise neonicotinoid free.
    • Apply IPM (Integrated Pest Management)* techniques before using chemical pesticides. If you must use them, please follow the instructions and only after you have exhausted other possibilities.
    • Are We Poisoning our Pollinators with Good Intentions?
  2. Grow Native Perennial Plants. Perennial flowers will grow from year to year and not require replanting. They also tend to be drought tolerant. Many perennial plants do not bloom in the first year and take two to three years to become established. Perennial plants will also spread and need occasional thinning over the years.
    • Reduce your lawn by planting native perennial gardens.
    • If you have a large open space, create a pollinator meadow and plant a variety of native seeds and let nature take its course. At the end of the growing season, mow the area to avoid woody vegetation from growing.  Plants that you must plant are milkweed, goldenrod, asters and bergamont.
    • Allow the edges of your yard to grow “wild”. You may need to weed or remove invasive plants until native species or the desired plants become established.
    • Experiment and plant native spring ephemerals in the shady areas such as Dutchmans Breeches, trout lily, blood root or trillium (this one is fly pollinated species).
  3. Grow Annual Flowers too! Annuals are especially attractive as they will continually bloom from spring to fall and attract a plethora of pollinators. Try salvia, cosmos and zinnia.
  4. Plant a Vegetable Garden. Bees and other pollinators are attracted to most flowers of garden plants.
    • Some of your garden plants will attract specialists, ex. squash bees are attracted to pumpkins, melons, summer and winter squashes, and long horned bees are attracted to sunflowers.
    • Bees are also attracted to flowers of herbs like mint, thyme, sage and oregano.
    • Let some plants you might eat go to flower like broccoli, bees love these yellow flowers.
  5. Grow flowering trees and shrubs. Many deciduous trees produce flowers that attract a variety of pollinators. Trees bloom, starting in early spring to early summer. One of the earliest blooming trees is pussy willow providing nectar and pollen for early spring bees. Other favorites include serviceberry, fruit trees, black locust.
  6. Plant a diversity of flowers with early spring blossoms to late fall bloomers. It is recommended to plant at least 20 species of flowers with 8 species blooming at any one time.
    • Planting a variety of flowers of different shapes and sizes to accommodate small bees and large bees or bees with long tongues and bees with short tongues.
    • It is especially important to plant flowers that bloom very early in the spring for early flying bees and equally important to have flowers that bloom late into the fall for late flying bees and overwintering bees.
    • There is a wide spectrum of insects that are generalist pollinators that are active from spring to fall, often social bees or bees that have multiple generations over the course of the summer.
  7. Plant flowers in patches. Plant single species of flowers in clumps about three feet in diameter. Bees love to forage on one species of flower at a time. It is important to have enough blooms for them to collect enough pollen and nectar.
  8. Avoid double blooms and hybrids. These type of flowers are not attractive to pollinators, as the nectar and pollen, if present will not be easily accessible. These flowers are not natural and have been bred for looks only.
    • Think of a rose, the domestic rose has been extremely altered, this is not what wild roses look like. Wild roses have five petals and tons of yellow stamens in the center.
  9. Create Bee Habitat.
    • Put up nesting boxes for the 30% of cavity pestering solitary bees, laying eggs in old beetle holes or other hollow spaces. Bees from the Megachilidae family include the mason bees, and leaf cutter bees that use their material of choice to create partitions between their larval chambers.
    • Provide exposed undisturbed soil for the 70% ground nesting bees that include the Andrenidae family which are also known as mining bees.
      Provide a source of water.
    • Bee Houses
  10. Take time to enjoy the visitors that will make your yard their home.

** IPM inlcudes a variety of techniques to manage insect pests.  For example: planting companion plants that repel insects, rotating crops in your garden, mulching with straw.  If an pest is identified, a variety of techniques are available including mechanical methods such as hand picking eggs, larvae or adult insects, setting up traps, ect.

Google Integrated Pest Management and/or contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.

Beaver Meadow in Full Bloom

This is a pollinator garden created by beaver two miles in the Catskill Wilderness. Old Beaver Meadows and Wilderness Pollinators 

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