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Getting to Know Your Garden Pollinators

Category Plant Health
Bees and other insects help cross pollinate plants in the garden to produce fertile seeds. This is a guide about getting to know your garden pollinators.
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By 3 found this helpful
July 23, 2009

Without pollinators, many of the fruits and vegetables we plant in our gardens would be impossible to produce. Scientists around the world are telling us that pollinators are currently in a serious state of decline due to loss of habitat, pesticide use, and disease. As gardeners, we can help. Here are some things you can do to create a pollinator-friendly garden.
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A Global Perspective

We know that pollinators are important to our backyard gardens, but what about their importance worldwide? Consider that nearly 90% of the world's flowering plants depend on animal and insect pollinators. And according to the Pollinator Partnership, as many as 80% of the world's crops depend on pollination for fertilization. Many of the food, beverages, textile fibers, spices, and medicines we make from plants could not exist without the help of pollinators.

How to Create a Pollinator Friendly Garden

Plant native plants: Native pollinators rely heavily on native plants for food. Will they visit and pollinate cultivated plants? Usually. But many non-native flowering plants, shrubs, and trees are bred to have big showy blooms at the expense of producing large amounts of pollen. Also, native pollinators don't always recognize the food value of cultivated plants, because they don't have an established history with them. Besides providing nectar and pollen-producing flowers, native plants also act as hosts for insect larva, and provide seeds for native birds.

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For a list of native plants that grow in your area, visit the Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates. http://www.xerces.org/plant-lists/

Look in your local yellow pages or contact your county extension agency to find nurseries in your area that sell native plants.

Focus on diversity: Different flowers attract different pollinators. For example, some flowers have stripes or color variations on their petals that act like a landing strip and guide pollinators toward their nectar. Others have shapes that accommodate long beaks, or flower only at night. Different pollinators are equipped with different tools for collecting and transporting pollen, so growing a diverse group of plants--plants with different shapes, colors, sizes, fragrances, and flowering times-will attract the greatest number of native pollinators.

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Provide water and shelter: Like all animals, pollinators need access to fresh water and places to feed and raise their young. Use a birdbath or shallow pool containing rocks to provide pollinators with fresh water. A quick Internet search will provide you with free plans for bird houses, bat houses, and nesting bungalows for native bees. Let a corner of the yard go to native grasses, weeds, and wildflowers to provide shelter for pollinating insects like ants, moths, and beetles, and a patch of bare sandy soil to accommodate underground bees. Locate these sites away from patio areas and places where children frequently play.

Avoid using chemicals: Pesticides and herbicides are a pollinator's worst enemy (and harmful to other beneficial insects as well). Garden organically and consider an integrated pest management system to control pests. If you do use pesticides, please apply them when they will be the least disruptive to pollinators (usually after dusk for insect pollinators).

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Know your garden pollinators: It's important to know who your garden pollinators are so you can plant the type or flowers that attract them.

List Of Common Garden Pollinators

The USDA Forest Service has a wonderful resource describing the types of characteristics a flower must have to attract a specific pollinator; the color, shape, fragrance, etc. Visit their Pollinator Syndromes page for more information.

Comment Was this helpful? 3

October 16, 2008

Several days ago, I found five really weird caterpillars on one of my small Meyer's lemon trees. They looked like truncated snakes with white and black stripes and patches that fell into a scale pattern and even false eyes. There was a kind of snake nosed hood that covered the actual caterpillar head and if you touched the hood gently with a grass blade, a red forked tongue feature would dart out. I tried to get the local extension agent to identify them for me, but they weren't familiar with them and advised me to kill them before they spread--especially since they were eating citrus. Late yesterday, the University of Florida Master Gardener got back to me and identified them as Orange Dog Caterpillars. They are the young of giant swallowtails that live on citrus. The interesting thing is that she said DON'T kill them.

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Too late, since after more than 48 hours I put the jar of them in the freezer since I didn't want to keep stripping leaves off the citrus to feed them. What I thought would interest you though is WHY she said not to kill them. She said the reason that the fruit isn't setting on the citrus and citrus related trees is because the loss of the bees has left us without pollinators. In desperation, they are now saying that it is better to risk a little damage to the trees than to kill any insect that could help pollinate. They are saying DON'T KILL ANY CATERPILLARS ANY MORE! (I just heard back from the Master Gardener again--she said since the trees were so small I could kill some to protect them since it isn't an endangered species)

That has really struck home, though, and I won't kill any more if they show up. I AM trying to identify other local plants they might live on. There are a couple known ones besides citrus in South Florida though they say that the resulting butterflies are smaller, than the citrus fed ones. Unfortunately, I don't recognize either of them as living around here, though I will research that too.

By Jeanne from Daytona Beach, FL

Comment Was this helpful? 1
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