After recent incidents of bumble bee deaths this summer, the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued new pesticide restrictions to protect bees. Metro natural gardening expert Carl Grimm shared tips for helping all of our important pollinators thrive - and encourage the work they do in your garden.
Bees, butterflies, birds and even bats carry pollen from flower to flower so plants can produce seeds and fruits. Without pollinators we'd lose one of every three mouthfuls of our food and drink, including nutritious fruits and vegetables like apples, almonds and blueberries.
But pollinators like bees are struggling to survive, in part, because of pesticides. If you're concerned by this, you're not alone. A recent social media survey by the Oregon Zoo revealed that local bumblebees are the number one animal respondents "would be most likely to take action to protect." Fortunately there a plenty of things everyone can do to help pollinators while keeping our yards looking great.
1. Avoid pesticides, particularly the ones most toxic to bees.
Some insecticides, such as the neonicotinoids that have been temporarily restricted (even for home use), are systemic, meaning they travel inside the plant to all its parts. In some cases this makes the flowers toxic to bees for years after only one application.
There are lots of great ways to prevent pests in your yard without pesticides:
o Add compost to the soil to help plants build their natural defenses.
o Use simple and safe pest control methods like blasting aphids off plants with water, hand-pulling weeds and picking and squishing bugs.
o Select pest-and-disease-resistant plants likely to thrive in the sun, soil, and water of the site you plant them in.
1. Plant diverse flowers, especially native ones, so pollinators have the nectar they need.
Buy organically grown plants or ones that were not treated with neonicotinoid pesticides so you don't harm the very critters you're trying to help.
Plant flowers of different colors, shapes and sizes and plan to have something blooming in each season from early spring to fall.
Native flowering plants such as douglas spirea, goldenrod and yarrow are more reliably useful to pollinators, but plenty of nonnative plants, such as sunflowers are great too.
For smaller flowering plants, use several of the same variety in a clump so pollinators will notice them more readily.
2. Create and protect nesting sites.
Unkempt areas can make great nesting habitat - open sandy ground, small brush piles, old tree stumps and plants left unpruned through the winter all help. You can even make bee homes with bundles of pithy stems.
If you see leaves being nibbled by caterpillars, let them be - they'll turn into beautiful, pollinating butterflies later!
Ask Metro for free booklets on safe and healthy gardening and a guide to native plants for pollinators at 503-234-3000 or at oregonmetro.gov/nativeplants.
For a great collection of factsheets and other resources for protecting pollinators, check out the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at bringbackthepollinators.org.