University offers top five tips for supporting pollinators this summer
When the first bit of green finally breaks through the earth or a bud forms on a tree outside of the window, it is safe to say spring has indeed sprung. This is when many individuals start to think of pollinators and what can be done to help them as plants begin to grow and bloom.
But what about the dog days of summer?
Although some climates may have gardens looking less than lovely by August, pollinators will still need assistance. With a little advance planning now, many people can support pollinators through the sweltering months and into fall.
Some popular garden plants like roses are usually self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind, but most of the flowers bought at nurseries are going to attract and require pollinators.
Around 80 percent of flowering plants need pollinators to reproduce, and over three-quarters of staple crops feeding people and livestock do too.
Thinking locally is a great way to help pollinators. Using plants native to each region can add some extra help to support both native and other pollinators, and native plants will be better suited for the soil and climate.
As with any plant, planting a cluster of several of the same type will make it easier for pollinators to find them. A bonus to attracting pollinators is local wildflower populations may also increase.
Top tips for
Molly Keck, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management program specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology, serving Bexar County, offers some science-based advice to keep pollinators around and thriving during the hottest months of the year.
First, she encourages individuals to overlap blooms. Pollinators need flowers that bloom at different times of the year. An array of flower varieties which peak after others fade are ideal.
Native and drought-tolerant species are also good additions to a garden or landscape. Planting from spring into fall can extend pollinators’ resources.
Second, it is important to be colorful. Individuals should plant flowers in a variety of colors since different pollinators are attracted to different colors.
Keck notes bumblebees are attracted to blues and purples, whereas other bees are more attracted to yellows or whites. She suggests adding really bright colors like oranges and pinks to a garden to draw in butterflies.
“Red isn’t seen well by bees, so red flowers with a contrasting center are usually a better bet,” she explains. “If you plant colors, they will come.”
Keck also suggests adding shapes and sizes.
Pollinators’ flower preferences come in all shapes and sizes, so variety is also key. Some pollinators like deeper or more open bowls since they have preferences on the way they collect pollen or feed on nectar.
“Be aware, some of the more modern hybrid flowers with ‘doubled’ flowers – what looks like many petals or a flower within a flower – may lack the pollen, nectar or fragrance pollinators seek out,” she says. “In pursuit of the best-looking bloom, some plant breeders have left out what pollinators need. In other words, avoid those that are all show but may lack substance.”
Individuals should also go easy on the pesticide.
Keck explains many people mistakenly believe if they don’t use pesticide, their plant won’t flower. So, those who feel like they have to apply pesticide should do it in the evening when most of the pollinators have “gone to bed.” This will hopefully give the pesticide time to dry before morning.
Keck reminds individuals to never spray the inside of a flower. If a plant is flowering, it most likely doesn’t need help since it takes a tremendous amount of energy to bloom in the first place, which wouldn’t happen if it was stressed.
Also make sure to read and follow the label and be aware of toxic ingredients.
Lastly, Keck says it is important to give pollinators shelter.
“Providing pollinators with shelter is another way to support their numbers. Houses for bees and other pollinators can be purchased online, at home and garden stores or can even be handmade using tubes,” she shares.
Whereas honeybees group in hives, most insect pollinators are solitary dwellers, and most bees actually live underground.
Some pollinators, like mason bees, need mud to line their homes. Keeping a bit of mud near a garden is a helpful way to aid with their construction.
The bee’s knees
According to Keck, bees are the “bee’s knees” among pollinators.
“Bees are the best because they are actively going after pollen,” she says. “Their body is really fuzzy, so they pick up a bunch of pollen and then they accidentally drop it off as they bounce from flower to flower.”
When most people think of pollinators, and bees in general, they typically think of honeybees and maybe bumblebees, Keck shares.
“But, there are actually a lot of different species of native bees that are great pollinators and are often overlooked because they’re small, or we just assume they are honeybees because of how they look,” she says.
Although bees may be the most efficient pollinators, plenty of other insects do their share of heavy lifting.
“Beyond bees, there are also butterflies and moths, flies, beetles and some wasps that are also good pollinators,” she notes. “The sheer number of beetles makes them a substantial, but often overlooked, pollinator.”
In addition to insects, birds and bats can also be pollinators. Individuals should consider adding night-blooming flowers for nocturnal pollinators.
Supporting pollinators year-round
The majority of pollinators are most active in the spring and summer, and then they start to slow down in the fall. In fact, most insect pollinators, aside from honeybees, will die over the winter.
However, bees and other pollinators often lay eggs in hollow stalks of plants. If one typically cuts these plants back or pulls them up, they should find a corner of their garden or yard where they can leave them until next year.
Keck explains the eggs pollinators lay and leave behind will hatch sometime between February and April, and the cycle will start all over again.
Susan Himes is a communication specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. This article was originally published in the Texas A&M AgriLife Newsletter on June 12.