Your garden can be more than a haven for you and your family to enjoy. It also can be a refuge for endangered bees and butterflies.
Three-quarters of all flowering plants — and more than one-third of food crops — depend on bees, butterflies and other pollinators for fertilization. Yet in just the past few years, the population of honeybees bred for use in commercial agriculture has dropped dramatically. Wild bees, butterflies and some pollinating bird species also are in decline.
Possible causes for the decline include parasites, disease and pesticides, but there’s no doubt that one major cause is loss of habitat — the plants that pollinators use for food, mating and nesting.
By landscaping with pollinators in mind, you can attract them to your garden, adding to your pleasure and helping to protect threatened species. How to plant for pollinators…
Choose native plants. Many of the plants that we are used to seeing in North American yards are originally from China and Europe, including the traditional lawn. They are not part of the local region’s food web — the complex network of plants and wildlife that depend on one another for survival. Some insects and birds have successfully adapted to non-native plant species, but most cannot adapt and may die out.
Also, many modern hybrid plants have been bred for appearance and extra bloom time but have lost the fragrance, nectar and pollen that once sustained butterflies and bees.
Rather than depend on hybrids for bloom time, choose different native plants that bloom at different times of year. By doing this, you can offer pollinators a succession of plants in flower from early spring to late fall. To learn about native plants in your region, visit the Web site of the Pollinator Partnership (www.Pollinator.org). Or contact your regional native plant society — the North American Native Plant Society lists state and regional groups at www.nanps.org (click on “Resources,” then “Native Plant Societies”). Your nearby cooperative extension office, which provides free agricultural education and information (www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension), also can help. Or you can talk to docents at your local arboretum.
Plant in groups. Grow plants close together to provide overlapping canopies of different heights. This pattern is inviting to pollinators and gives them protection from predators.
Plant for larvae as well as adult pollinators. Butterflies need more than flowers and nectar to survive. They also need plants for their larvae to feed on. A few plant species, such as black-eyed Susan and milkweed, provide both. But in most cases, host plants that nourish larvae are different from flowering plants that provide nectar. Even the so-called butterfly bush provides nectar but no food for larvae. Good host plants are woody, such as viburnum, black cherry and oak.
Avoid pesticides. Even natural pesticides can be deadly to bees. Also, wiping out insects starves the birds that feed on them. Plant diversity is a better solution to the pest problem than pesticides. A variety of native plants will support insects’ natural enemies, including birds, keeping the different populations in balance — and making for a beautiful and life-sustaining environment around your home.