Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Plantings for Pollinators

The last couple of weeks we've all been busy as bees at Baldwin Nurseries, but we're taking a few minutes off to catch up with readers and talk about plantings and pollinators. First, thank you to everyone who turned out and said hello and bought plants from us when we were at the Native Plant Sale at Acadia two weekends ago. It was terrific to see so many people intersted in native plants in particular, and gardening in general.

Speaking about being busy as bees, we've been thinking a lot about pollinators in the past few weeks. Pollinators are organisms that move pollen from one flower to another, allowing fertilization to take place, which leads in turn to seed or fruit production. Mind you, pollinating insects aren’t performing this task altruistically: they’re looking for nectar to feed themselves, and in the process of moving from flower to flower, transfer pollen.

Many people think of honeybees when they think of pollination, but they're just one of many different types of pollinators. And interestingly, honeybees aren't native to North America, but were brought here by settlers. There ARE many native pollinators, including bumble, carpenter, leafcutter and other solitary bees, hover flies, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and even some beetles.

We are very dedicated to encouraging pollinator gardens, and carry a variety of plants that are attractive to all kinds of different pollinators. In the past few years, more of us have been developing gardens that are wildlife friendly. In many cases, the wildlife we’re primarily focusing on are birds, perhaps some reptiles and amphibians, and butterflies. But the same sorts of things we do to attract these types of wildlife will also help encourage native pollinators and other beneficial creatures to visit our gardens.

What can we do to help entice pollinators to our gardens?
1. Don't use pesticides. Even organic products can be very detrimental to bees and other pollinators, so if you feel you must use something to combat a pest of some sort, make sure to follow manufacturers instructions and avoid spraying at times when pollinators are active.
2. Plant a wide variety of native and open-pollinated species of flowering plants, which are suited for the native pollinators in our region.
3. Leave an area of your garden "wild", allowing wild plants to flourish as habitat for pollinators to live in.

4. Plan your garden to have a good variety of flowers blooming from spring to fall. Spring flowering plants include witch hazels (hamamelis), willows (Salix), pulmonaria, (seen above), and many more.
5. Plant species with a wide range of colours, and plant them in drifts of one colour at a time rather than polka dot effect. Different types of pollinators are attracted to different colours, and its easier for them to see a drift of brilliant red bee balm or bright purple phlox than to look down at a 'muddy' mixture of many colours.
6. Select flowering plants with a variety of different shapes. Different type of pollinators work with different types of flowers. Hummingbirds, for example, use their long beaks and tongues to probe inside trumpet-shaped flowers of honeysuckle, weigela, columbine, and others. Magnolias are pollinated by beetles, so they have thick, sturdy petals and stamens strong enough to hold the beetles' weight, while butterflies like to land on flat-topped flowers such as milkweeds and asters.
7. Don't be in a huge hurry to weed out every wild plant. Goldenrod, for example, are important sources of pollen for bees, and the pollen will NOT make you sneeze, because it's too heavy to float through the air.

Here are some plants that are very useful to pollinators of different types.

Scarlet bee balm and wild bergamot (Monarda species.)
Red Twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
Herbs including borage, rosemary, thyme, dill and parsley
Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
Globe thistles (Echinops)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Milkweeds (Asclepias—the only larval food for Monarch butterflies)
Asters, both cultivated and wild
Blazing star/gayfeather (Liatris)
Annual and perennial sunflowers
Yarrow (Achillea species)
Sedums, including ‘Autumn Joy’
Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Willows (Salix, various species)

Want to know more about pollinators? Check out the Wild About Gardening website of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Monarch Watch, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Protection.