Pollinators play a crucial role in our ecosystems by providing essential services that often go unnoticed. They are responsible for pollinating crops like apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, melons, peaches, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, vanilla, almonds, coffee, and chocolate. In fact, three-fourths of the world's flowering plants & about 35% of the world's food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce.
75% of flowering plants are pollinated by bees. There are over 20,000 kinds of bees on Earth! 730 are known species in Canada, with a total of 4000 in North America (and new species are being found every year). Bees are classified into two kingdoms- solitary and social. See the link attached to this post to read about the different kinds of bees you can find in your backyard
Moths & Butterflies
Ladybugs & Beetles
Birds, Bats, & Hummingbirds
Hoverflies, Flies, & Wasps
Providing a safe, chemical-free zone with plants that pollinators eat will be sure to bring them to your garden. What makes a good pollinator plant? A good pollinator plant should have some or all of the following qualities:
Hold off on cleaning up your garden in the early spring. 70% of bees nest in the ground. Many bees will be hiding away in your garden and a clean-up may disturb or destroy delicate, over-wintering, unhatched larvae. Some bees stow away in hollow plant stems, some tuck into nooks and crannies in your garden, and some burrow into the soil. Wait until late spring, when most bees have already emerged to do a garden clean-up. Keep roto-tilling and digging to a minimum, and leave an area in your yard undisturbed year-round to provide a home. Plastic or fabric barriers or landscaping clothes will kill buried bees, and prevent new bees from being able to nest. Provide a variety of soil types to support as much biodiversity as possible.
No neonicotinoids. Ensure that you aren't using products that contain neonicotinoids in them. Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides widely used across North America. These insecticides are absorbed by the plant, transfered through the plant's vascular system, and can be present in the plant's nectar and pollen. When the bee visits the flower, it unknowingly comes into contact with the neonicotinoids. This is very toxic for bees- changing their behavior and even killing them. Some times commercial seeds are coated in neonicotinoids, and even that is enough to be lethal to a bee or other small insect. Neonicotinoids can stick around for months or even years after a single application. A plant that is grown from a coated seed can contaminate an untreated plant grown in the same spot the following year. There are woody plants that will test positive six years (!) after a single dose via soil drench. Europe has started to ban this class of pesticides, while Canada and USA are slower to do so. The good news is that some steps are now being taken to limit or ban some use. The bad news is that it is not enough! Ways you can help:
1. Immediately stop any personal use of neonicotinoids
2. Read more about neonicotinoids from The Xerces Society here
3. Contact your municipal government and asking for this pesticide to be banned locally
5. Raise backyard bees! Construct a solitary bee hut or box and store larvae over the winter in your fridge to ensure survival
6. Spread the word!
No Neems. Neem oil is a popular organic pesticide, and folks are often encouraged to use neem oil as an eco-friendly option in controlling unwanted pests. Unfortunately, neem oil can be dangerous for bees and other small pollinators. Some advise is to only spray at night, when honey bees are mostly back in their hives. This doesn't account for other pollinators that may be hanging around the plant at night, such as moths. It is best to try to avoid neem oil on outside plants
Plant a diverse buffet of flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, shrubs, and trees to provide pollinators with a lot of biodiversity to choose from. This also ensures that some nectar will be available in the early spring, while some will be ready mid-summer, and some in the fall- providing a much needed late-season food source. Some of the plants will attract short-tongued bees, some will attract the long-tongued bees. Research which plants are native to your area and go wild! Perennials are wonderful, because you won't have to replant them every year. Native pollinators will be adapted to collecting nectar from native plants. One flowering perennial tree can provide as much forage as a 30,000 sq ft wildflower meadow.
Plant groups of flowers in 3' x 3' blocks. Plant 3-5 plants per block
Set up bee hydration stations throughout your garden. Bees feed water to their larvae, use water to cool down their hives, and to thin out their honey. A DIY bee hydration station makes an easy and fun project for kids!
Lazy gardeners, rejoice! Weeds provide a great source of food for pollinators, especially in early spring. Some weeds that pollinators like are clover, dandelion, deadnettle, goldenrod, purslane, buckwheat, and yarrow
Resist the urge to cut your grass in May. Dandelions are a great source of food in the spring for bees. Even better, ditch the lawn and plant bee turf, a native wildflower meadow, or cover crops instead.
A DIY Pollination Hydration Station. Bees and other pollinators will sip water here on hot suer days
Tricolored Bumblebee 'Bombus ternarius' on a strawflower