You’re not the only one hard at work in your garden! Pollinators have a vital and important role to play there as well and for many years have been our unsung heroes, busily doing their job while we sit back and take all the credit. In recent years we’ve seen a decline in our pollinator populations, due to environmental factors, parasitic mites and well to be perfectly honest, our own lack of understanding of how crucial their work is to our eco-system.
What is Pollination?
First, let’s talk science. Simply put, pollination is the movement of pollen from the stamen to the stigma which further results in fertilization.
Some flowers self-pollinate (pollination occurs in the same plant) and others cross-pollinate (pollen is transferred from the stamen of one plant to the stigma of another of the same species). For example, tomatoes are self-pollinators; Squash and cucumbers cross-pollinate. This process doesn’t always occur and different plants have different requirements – for some, the wind is enough to do the trick, for others, it requires the help of pollinators to make it happen. In fact, about 80% of plants require the help of pollinators. Let that soak in a minute, 80% is a pretty big number! I’ve been asked the question many times ‘Why aren’t my cucumbers, peppers, etc. producing? I have lots of flowers but never any fruit.’ The answer usually is lack of pollination. In a pinch, you can always resort to using a small paintbrush and pollinate by hand by transferring pollen from one plant to another, but the long-term goal would be to attract more natural pollinators to your garden to do the work they were designed to do.
How do I attract Pollinators?
Pollinators are drawn to places where they can find their next meal easily. Generally speaking, pollinators are looking for flowers, and some flowers give easier access to pollen than others. Some flowers hide their pollen with rows of thick petals. They can still be pollinated, but they aren’t as attractive to pollinators as something like a daisy would be. Picture a daisy in your mind – soft petals around a large, yellow circle of pollen,mmmmmm, it’s a butterfly and bees dream, but not so attractive to a hummingbird. A Hummer prefers deep-throated, tubular flowers, because they are looking for nectar, not pollen. Below is a handy guide we created for knowing what perennials attract what kind of pollinator. Remember there are loads of annual flowers that are attractive to pollinators as well and you can find some suggestions at https://hopemtnnurseries.com/product-cat/flowers/pollinator-friendly/
Don’t forget the Water
Just like us pollinators need water. Bees and Butterflies have a habit of gathering together to drink at water sources. It’s easy to create water sources such as small containers or birdbaths. You can also add a few pebbles as resting places. Your pollinators will be grateful for an easy place to quench their thirst on a hot day.
Feed the Caterpillars
Aside from food sources, pollinators are also looking for host plants. When we think about attracting butterflies, we should be considering all stages of development. Butterflies need places to lay their eggs, for caterpillars to munch on and nectar for the adult butterfly. Host plants are places where they lay their eggs. This is particularly important for butterflies, whose eggs hatch out caterpillars, which have different food needs than adult butterflies. Parsley, Fennel, Dill & Milkweed are good examples of host plants.
Does this mean I have to be totally organic? No, but it does mean that you should never use any neonicotinoid pesticides. These are marketed and sold for at-home use, especially for ornamental lawn care. Be aware that the word “neonicotinoid” won’t be present on the label. It’s a class of pesticides, not a specific type. Watch out for these ingredients:
Even organic sprays applied at the wrong time can pose a problem. Always spray in early morning, or late in the evening when the pollinators aren’t flying.
Viva la Pollinators,