How to Create a Pollinator-Friendly Growing Space
Did you know that one in every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of insect pollination? Think of it this way—one of the three meals you ate today, you can thank a pollinator for. Counter that fact with a not-so-good statistic—U.S. honeybee populations are declining at a rate of 44 percent or more.
But, this issue goes way beyond honeybees. Honeybees are an imported species. There are 3,500 species of native bees that actually do more foraging per day than the honeybee. There are also moths, wasps, butterflies, bats, beetles, flies and some birds that are all out there working hard to pollinate.
Helping our pollinators thrive is simple: When they are provided with a safe habitat, they will return. Thankfully, the City of Lynchburg is abuzz with good news to help our pollinator populations. A few recent headlines include:
• Randolph College is the 9th college in the nation and the first in the state of Virginia to be certified as a part of the Bee Campus USA program.
• The City of Lynchburg became the 87th city in the U.S. to be recognized as part of the Bee City USA movement sponsored by the Xerces Society.
• And lastly, Blue Ridge Conservation, a joint effort of both the Hillside and Lynchburg garden clubs, has planted two pollinator gardens in the city along with LEAF (Lynchburg Expressway Enhancement Fund). The goal of all these groups is to help declining pollinator populations by doing what we can to slow or stop habitat loss, increase plant food sources in order to provide better nutrition, and reduce pesticide exposure.
So—how can you make a difference and contribute to this movement?
Here are a few ways to make sure your garden is pollinator-friendly.
Before using a chemical, really weigh whether you must use it at all. Some people have adopted a “don’t spray until dusk” policy with pesticides, claiming that bees don’t feed at dusk. Herbicides are responsible for much of the decline in food sources for pollinators that are so critical to our food production.
Invite pollinators to inhabit your yard by creating a habitat where they can find a diverse population of flowering native or naturalized plants (see sidebar) as well as egg laying or nesting sites. When choosing what to plant in an area, do some research on what that plant does. Look for plants that provide both nectar (food) and that are host plants (a place where the young can grow and feed). If you include as few as five different kinds of each of these in your green space, you have done a lot to provide a place for foraging pollinators to rest.
Create Nesting Sites:
Once pollinators have a food source, they will need places to nest and overwinter.
Be slow to clean up your garden in the fall. Instead of feeling like you must mow and pull every dead flower or vegetable, let it stand. These dead stems make excellent sites for pollinators to lay eggs. Keep some leaves on your property for hibernation spots. Make a pile of sticks somewhere for shelter.
Let dead trees stand unless they endanger you or your property. If you designate a third of your available landmass to be left in this “natural” state, you have created a pollinator-friendly overwintering environment that can increase the odds of their survival. This may have the added benefit of reducing the pest populations in our gardens as many of the pollinators also feed on other insects.
Build a Habitat Structure:
If you want to commit to helping pollinators in a more serious way, you can build a variety of habitat structures. One of the more elaborate designs is the Pollinator Palace.
In July, students from the Regional Governor’s School summer camp attended a tour of the Pest House at Old City Cemetery. While there, they also constructed a Pollinator Palace.
Here is how to get started:
Place your palace away from well-used paths around your home. About a 10-foot radius is all that is needed to keep the inhabitants undisturbed while they settle in. The Pollinator Palace at Old City Cemetery is located between two winterberry and serviceberry trees, both of which are food sources in the environment.
Your structure should be in the direct sun in the morning and can be in partial shade in the afternoon. A nearby occasionally wet muddy spot is ideal but not required. Think of a spot where you might have a shallow puddle after a rainstorm for a few hours.
We wanted our site to stay tidy—because Old City Cemetery is a public garden—so we began with a layer of cardboard to suppress weeds. We then covered any openings with wire mesh, to prevent groundhogs from setting up house. (Pollinators are welcome, but not groundhogs!)
Then you begin the process of layering pallets and placing prospective “home sites” on each. Be sure you place the materials about three inches in from the edge of the palette so they do not get too hot in the sun and to also prevent rain from flooding out your “guests.”
Provide different materials (brick, pipe, etc.) with various size holes for diverse pollinators to enter. Unlike honeybees, other pollinators are mostly solitary dwellers. The adult will enter one of these provided holes and store pollen or bugs, such as caterpillars, and lay its eggs in the opening.
Then, when the young hatch, their first meal is close by. They then chew or eat their way out of their nest and move on to complete their life cycle and pollinate their preferred crop for the new season.
Add a roof to protect the structure. We nailed on these bulb crates and planted lantana and thyme for food and cooling.
(Plus, it’s just cute!)
Additional pots and plants surround the palace to entice our guests to stick around a while. The pots were filled with pinecones, flowers, or a small amount of soil for pollinators that burrow.
This structure should be usable for 4-5 years depending on how fast the pallets decompose. Once you are sure the pollinators have left their nests, it is a good idea to clean the different elements to prevent mites from taking up residence. Remove what nesting sites you can from the structure. Clean with a 1:3 bleach to water solution by submerging the brick or pipe. Replace the bamboo, grass and twigs yearly to keep your palace pest free.