Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Enjoying the Birds and the Bees in Your Own Backyard - Attracting Pollinators

What do flowers, fine chocolates and flavorful coffee have to do with the birds and the bees?

Both chocolate and coffee are two of the 1000+ plants that depend on visits from the birds and the bees, and other pollinators, to help spread the love, or in their case, pollen, from flower to flower. In fact, it is estimated that about 90% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollination (as opposed to wind pollination) and over 200,000 species of animals participate in the pollinating. Without pollinators, many plants would never produce fruit or set seed and many of the foods we eat would no longer be available. As if a world lacking chocolate and coffee wouldn’t be bad enough, wild creatures that rely on pollinated plants for food and shelter could also disappear.

Like so many other species, some pollinators are showing steady population declines. Although the declines in honeybee populations are mainly due to diseases, declines in wild pollinator populations are attributed to habitat loss, competition from invasive species and exposure to pesticides.

Fortunately, we can do our part to correct the problem by inviting the birds and the bees to our own backyards. Simply choosing the right plants and eliminating chemicals in our landscapes will invite more pollinators, which in turn will bring more flowers, more fruit and a new level of enjoyment to a garden filled with colorful, winged wonders.

The most popular pollinators are already some of our favorite garden visitors – butterflies and hummingbirds. Other pollinators include beetles, bees, ants, wasps, moths and even small mammals.

So how do we attract these pollinators? Plant what they love!

To attract more pollinators to your yard, keep these things in mind:
  • Choose plants with overlapping bloom times to provide flowers throughout the year
  • Select plants with a variety of colors and shapes to attract different pollinators
  • Plant in clumps, rather than single plants
  • Whenever possible, choose native plants.  Avoid modern hybrids, especially those with “doubled” flowers, as the pollen, nectar, and fragrance is sometimes unwittingly bred out of these plants in exchange for “perfect” blooms
  • Include night-blooming flowers for moths and bats.
  • Avoid pesticides, even so-called "natural" ones such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). If you must use them, use the most selective and least toxic ones and apply them at night when most pollinators aren't active.

Include some  favorite plant choices for pollinators in your garden (see lists below). And then pull up a lawn chair and treat yourself to a little coffee and chocolate while you enjoy the birds and bees in your own back yard.

For more information:

Creating a Wild Backyard – Hummingbirds, Butterflies & Bees – Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Creating a Wild Backyard – Bees – Maryland Department of Natural Resources

U.S. Forest Service – Celebrating Wildflowers: Pollinators – http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/index.shtml

Pollinator Partnership – http://www.pollinator.org/

Pollinator Conservation Resources – Mid-Atlantic Region

Learn More About Pollinators – Chesterfield County, Virginia Cooperative Extension

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