Pollinators are primarily insects that help transfer pollen. Bees are the most important and efficient pollinators. They purposefully seek and gather pollen for food. Their bodies have features to gather and hold pollen.
Most other pollinators seek nectar and only incidentally transfer pollen, such as bugs, butterflies, and hummingbirds. They lack hairs to gather and hold pollen. They sometimes damage or eat pollen or parts of plants.
Pollinators are essential because 75% of the world’s major food crops require or benefit from pollinators. About one third of the food we eat needs animal pollination. In Wisconsin, pollinator dependent crops account for over $55 million in annual production, and honey and beeswax add another $3.5 – 4 million. Bees can’t fly very far, so local farms and home gardens need local bees.
Pollinators are declining in number due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Causes include:
- Conversion of natural landscape into housing, commercial developments, oil and natural gas fields, and large-scale farming
- Fragmentation of larger habitat lands into small unconnected areas.
- Destruction or disturbances in nesting areas, annual native bees lost.
- Use of herbicides to clear areas around commercial farm crops, roadsides, right of ways, and residential yards. Some farmers, agencies, and municipalities beginning to change.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT POLLINATORS?
Wisconsin Pollinator Protection Plan:
- Choose plants that suit your yard, considering soil type, drainage, slope and amount of available sunlight.
- Choose a variety of flower colors.
- Aim for at least three species of flowering plants in bloom at all times from early spring to late fall. Flowering plants include wildflowers, garden herbs and fruit/vegetables, and flowering shrubs and trees…
- Incorporate native plant species into your garden. Gardens with native plants tend to attract more bee species and support more butterfly and bird species than those dominated by introduced ornamentals.
- Avoid invasive plants, noxious weeds, and highly modified cultivars.
- If local ordinances allow it, let dandelions, clover and other flowering lawn plants bloom. These can provide important early season pollen and nectar sources when other floral resources are sparse.
- Before applying an insecticide to treat lawn pests, mow to remove any clover or dandelion blooms that might attract pollinators. By the time flowering lawn plants regrow, insecticides will be less present in nectar and pollen.
What factors should you consider when designing a pollinator friendly garden?
- Choose colors that desired pollinators can see
- Plant large groups of the same or similar color flowers so that pollinators can see them more easily when flying by
- Use large groups of the same plants for easier cross pollination, and better efficiency by requiring less energy of pollinators
- Choose pollinator plants and flower types with easy nectar availability for different types of pollinators
- Use continuous blooms to keep pollinators fed and coming back
- Choose native plants or close cultivars when possible