Do you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, a slice of watermelon on a hot summer day, or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? If you answered “yes,” then you need to thank a pollinator! In fact, one out of every three foods you eat needs the assistance of pollinators. Indeed, only 10 percent of all flowering plants do not rely on pollinators for pollination, which means the rest require help from outside sources. Some examples of common food plants that need pollinators are tomatoes, eggplant, beans, peas, squash, peppers, cucumbers, melons, apples, peaches, and pears. Without the services of pollinators, our diets would be severely limited, making it more difficult to acquire the variety of foods needed to stay healthy.
As shared by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “Pollinators are nearly as important as sunlight, soil, and water to the reproductive success of over 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants.” However, when you think outside of the vegetable and fruit garden, you will realize that the purpose of any bloom is to produce viable seeds and a way for that plant to reproduce. Pollinators are there to help.
Many types of animals are part of this process. You may know that honeybees are pollinators, but you may not know that they aren’t even native to North America. In fact, they were imported from Europe in the 1600s. Others pollinators include bats and birds, but the most common pollinators are insects. Insect pollination is crucial to most gardens and occurs when bees, butterflies, and beetles fly from flower to flower collecting nectar. However, in the process, pollen adheres to their bodies and is transferred to the other flowers they visit. Without these animals, many food plants that we grow in our gardens would not be able to complete the pollination process and, therefore, would not produce fruits or vegetables. Thus, if you are having trouble with your plants failing to produce, chances are very good that they may be missing pollinating visitors.
Unfortunately, these beneficial insects face many threats, including pesticide use on plants that not only kills the damaging insects, but the beneficial pollinators as well. While pesticides are only part of the reason that pollinator populations are in decline, there are other detrimental factors, including habitat destruction and fragmentation, decreased plant diversity, and the spread of invasive species. Perfectly manicured, weedless lawns have taken the place of flowered meadows and woodland borders. Native vegetation is being replaced with non-native landscaping. When we remove food sources and nesting sites for pollinators, we make it harder for them to flourish.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to increase the number of pollinating guests that visit your yard.
- Plant a diverse garden that will also attract pollinators to your fruit trees and vegetable garden. Choose flowers with a variety of colors and shapes, planted in clumps, rather than single plants, to attract a variety of visitors. Be sure to plant for each season from spring to fall.
- Provide a water source by incorporating a shallow dish, bowl, or birdbath with half-submerged stones for perches.
- Apply insecticides correctly, as many brands target all insects, both beneficial and harmful. Do not use insecticides on food plants that rely on pollinators. Instead, try using bug controls such as predatory insects or bacteria that are specific to the harmful insects that are causing the damage to your garden.
- Do not use overhead watering in the morning or afternoon when most insect pollinators are active. Use drip irrigation if possible.
Karen Garland is one of many UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteers of Cherokee County. For more information or questions contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners or on our website at cherokeemastergardenersinc.wildapricot.org