Pollinators are the animals, mostly insects, that move pollen from one flower to another. This results in pollination and the formation of seeds and fruit. Scientists estimate that one in every three bites of food comes from pollination. Because of the importance to food crops and our vegetable gardens, the decline in pollinators, especially honey bees, is in the news frequently. Let’s keep them buzzing.
Bees are very important pollinators. This includes the honey bee and 500 species of native bees. The diverse native bees range in size from the tiny sweat bee through mason bees all the way to carpenter and bumble bees. Some are social and live in colonies while others are solitary. The importance of these native bees should not be overlooked.
Honey bees may not be native but they are pollinating machines. They are uniquely adapted to gather and transport pollen. They have baskets on their legs that they stuff full to take back to their hive. They also have hairs that capture and move pollen around from one flower to another.
Another adaptation is that they have flower fidelity. They only visit one type of flower (or very few) in their forage runs. This ensures that the pollen is getting to the correct flower for pollination to occur. They even tell each other with the waggle dance in what direction and how far away a good pollen source is located.
You can support these very important garden workers by providing some of their needs. Advertise your garden by planting large diverse groups of flowers. Try to have something blooming from very early to late in the season. There are many trees and shrubs that can help. Even if they are not showy, the pollinators will find them. Your local garden center can help you find the perfect plants.
Some trees and shrubs that are good sources of pollen and nectar are maple, pussy willow, viburnum, crabapple, linden, ninebark, and serviceberry. Bees and other pollinators are frequent visitors to herbs such as basil, borage, catmint, lavender, chives and oregano.
Annuals to add to the garden include cosmos, marigold, alyssum, sunflower and zinnia. We can’t forget the perennial flowers. You can rely on asters, hyssop, purple coneflower, and sedum. For good garden design, be sure to have something blooming throughout the season.
You should also provide shallow water with a rock or stick landing area to keep them from drowning. They will need shelter from wind. Limited pesticide sprays are recommended. If spraying is necessary, follow all label directions and warnings.
Other pollinators include flies, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other birds. Even you can be a pollinator if you stop to smell the flowers.
This article was submitted by the OSU Extension Fayette County Master Gardener Volunteer Program.
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