Did you know that National Pollinator Week is coming up June 16-22, 2014?
To get prepared for Pollinator Week, let's take a look at gardening as a way to encourage local pollinators.
How would you go about it? If you have the typical vast expanse of grass, one step could be to carve out areas from that lawn and start adding beds and borders of a diversity of flowering plants. Over time, you could continue to expand the beds until you reach the point where you can recycle the lawnmower.
Choosing which plants to include in a pollinator garden may be complicated. The best solution is to grow plants that originated in a given area or native plants.
There are regional plant lists available, but using only native plants is not always possible. These specialized plants may not be available in local nurseries, larger natives may require more space than is available, or there may be local restrictions on landscape appearance that prohibit use of plants that look "messy."
An alternative is to grow common landscape plants. The question then becomes which ones will suit your local pollinators.
In a recent paper in the journal Functional Ecology, Mihail Garbuzov and Francis L. W. Ratnieks quantified how attractive common landscape plants were to bees and other flying insects in a scientific way. They carried out their studies in Great Britain, but give good suggestions that could be used anywhere. For example, geraniums (flowers of the genus Pelargonium) are not a good choice for a pollinator garden no matter where you live because the flowers produce no nectar.
In this video Dr. Ratnieks explains their techniques and some of their findings:
Did you notice how many of the preferred plants were common herbs? Planting an herb garden would give a double benefit, being useful to your cooking and to pollinators.
The take home message is that spending some time getting to know the habits of your local pollinators before you plant your garden can go a long way towards helping them survive in the future.
What do you think? Are quick observations sufficient to make generalizations about pollinators or should there be more rigorous studies like this one by Garbuzov and Ratnieks?
Garbuzov, M., Ratnieks, F. L. W. (2014), Quantifying variation among garden plants in attractiveness to bees and other flower-visiting insects. Functional Ecology, 28: 364–374.