We are all familiar with European honeybees as pollinators (and a source of honey!) but there are a wide variety of pollinators, including many wild bee species, butterflies and others. In fact, the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State College of Agricultural Science reports there are several hundred thousand species of pollinators. While it’s impossible to track all of them, numerous studies have shown disturbing population declines and even local extinctions.
By far the majority of food crops require pollinators, as do well-functioning native habitats that all earth’s creatures require, so this is a very serious problem. Many factors contribute, but one that’s well-known is a reduction in habitat that can support them.
What can an individual do? Well, grow appropriate flowering plants, of course! Choosing native species for at least some of what you plant is a good idea, since native pollinators are known to have preferences for plants they’ve evolved with over time. Stay away from plants that are, or may be, invasive in your area – no point in trying to help with one problem only to create another! See xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/plant-lists/ for more great information.
You can also avoid using contact insecticides in your garden since they kill both good and bad bugs, and try to choose plants that have been grown without “neonics”, a class of pesticides which stay with the plants for many months and have been implicated in pollinator decline. Some nurseries like the one I work at have decided to err on the side of caution and are no longer using these products.
There are many benefits to growing plants. Tending a garden, however small it may be, and choosing plants with pollinators in mind is a thoughtful and responsible way to add enjoyment!
Article written by Haley Argen from NATS Nursery Ltd.
Haley is a horticulturist with a particular interest in and passion for how plants can be used to support sustainability, food security, and healthy ecosystems. She works for NATS Nursery Ltd, a specialized grower of native plants for 30 years and a leader in the area of environmental stewardship, and also runs her own small nursery.