What would we do without bees and other pollinators? About 150 crops grown in the U.S. depend on pollinators, including apples, almonds, blueberries, citrus, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins and squash. Pollinators are also vital to plants used to feed livestock, as well as fiber-producing plants, such as cotton.
Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another flower of the same species. It can then fertilize it and begin the process of fruit and seed production. Most plants (not all) depend on pollinators such as bees to complete this cycle.
In addition to the honeybee, there are about 4,000 species of native or wild bees in the U.S., including bumblebees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, leaf cutter bees and mason bees. The populations of many of these bees are in serious decline.
According to the Pollinator Partnership, the U.S. has lost over 50 percent of managed honeybee colonies in the past 10 years. This decline has been named colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is defined as a series of symptoms, whose causes are still not fully understood. Scientists believe contributing factors include parasites, diseases and exposure to pesticides.
So, what can we do to encourage bees and pollination? Garden with bees in mind. Bees are attracted to many different types of flowering plants. Some bee favorites are clematis, buttercups, cosmos, dahlias, echinacea, foxgloves, geraniums, hollyhocks, globe thistle, roses, bee balm, fennel, sunflowers, tansy, rosemary, sage, thyme, asters, clover, marigolds, poppies, zinnias, dandelions and fruit tree blossoms. Including a variety of flowers and plants in your garden will encourage to blooming throughout the season. Also by choosing different heights of plants, flower shapes and sizes, along with providing a small, shallow dish of water, you can create a habitat that bees will love.
Be sure to avoid using pesticides, however, if you feel it is absolutely necessary, try to avoid spraying the blossoms or when pollinators are present. Since many pesticides are toxic to bees and have contributed to their decline, try to use other techniques to control insect infestations such as hand picking, trapping, row covers and crop rotation in vegetable gardens. If using Bt, remember that while it is quite effective on caterpillars, it could also affect butterfly larvae.
For more information, be sure to check out the Pollinator Partnership website at www.pollinator.org.There you will see topics on pollinators, projects, posters and books you can order, volunteer opportunities and so much more.