Pol­li­na­tor Pock­ets: small plots with nec­tar-rich plants

The Progress-Index - At Home - - GARDEN - By Dean Fosdick

It doesn’t take mas­sive flowerbeds to make ben­e­fi­cial in­sects happy — just a few pollen- and nec­tar-rich plants in a small area, a “pol­li­na­tor pocket.”

Com­mon ar­eas such as road­sides, school­yards and parks make good can­di­dates for pol­li­na­tor pock­ets. So do idled corners of farm fields.

“A lot of peo­ple think that when you plant things for in­sects that they won’t be pretty. They’ll look wild,” said San­dra Ma­son, an ex­ten­sion hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with the Univer­sity of Illi­nois in Champaign. “But by se­lect­ing cer­tain plants, you can have beauty and help out pol­li­na­tors as well.” Lack of space need not be a prob­lem. “Four- to 6-foot ovals or 24 square feet are large enough and doable,” Ma­son said. “They don’t cost a lot of money and they’re easy to main­tain.”

And although pol­li­na­tor pock­ets may be small, they make a big im­pact when linked.

“In the scheme of things, one 4-by6-foot pocket doesn’t mat­ter,” Ma­son said. “But it does if the en­tire neigh­bor­hood works to­gether. Com­mu­ni­ties be­come acres.”

Bees, whose num­bers have de­clined dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, need pollen and nec­tar to sur­vive. Cover and nest­ing sites also are im­por­tant, so think foursea­son and suc­ces­sion gar­den­ing while plant­ing.

“Se­lect plants that are early, mid-sum­mer and late-sea­son flow­er­ing,” Ma­son said. “Leave the stems up when they quit bloom­ing. Ma­son bees will use the old stems for lay­ing their eggs and for over­win­ter­ing. They also pro­vide cover for the birds and the bees.”

Leave the plants stand­ing for a cou­ple of months af­ter your spring cleanup, she said. Any in­sects still in there will have a chance to emerge.

Hun­dreds of flow­ers, shrubs, trees and vines can be used to sus­tain pol­li­na­tors. Check with your county ex­ten­sion of­fice or search the In­ter­net for na­tive va­ri­eties. Bet­ter yet, wan­der around and study some blooms, Ma­son said.

“See which ones are pop­u­lar with bees and but­ter­flies,” she said.

This June 10, 2015 photo shows a hon­ey­bee about to de­scend on a black­berry blos­som grow­ing near Langley, Wash. Hun­dreds of flow­ers, shrubs, trees and vines can be used to sus­tain pol­li­na­tors. Take a walk around the neigh­bor­hood to de­ter­mine which blooms are the most pop­u­lar with bees and but­ter­flies and then add sim­i­lar va­ri­eties to your yard.

The agri­cul­tural sec­tor also plays a big role in the pol­li­na­tor-pocket move­ment, as do or­ga­ni­za­tions like Pheas­ants For­ever that make wild­flower seeds avail­able to farm­ers.

“It’s tough though,” said Ron Bab­cock, owner of Bab­cock Farms, a 160-acre spread near Glenvil, Ne­braska, that in­cludes three dozen hon­ey­bee hives. “Try­ing to con­vince peo­ple they don’t have to plant fencerow to fencerow and that they should take some prof­itable ground out of pro­duc­tion (for pol­li­na­tor pock­ets) is not an easy sell.”

Bab­cock has about half his farm planted with crops and the rest set aside for pol­li­na­tors. He also holds down a day job to keep the op­er­a­tion go­ing.

“I’ve got to make enough off of pro­duc­tion to help pay the bills,” he said. “At the same time, I try to en­cour­age peo­ple farm­ing like my­self to leave a lit­tle al­falfa grow­ing along the edges when they harvest. It’s a huge re­source for bees.”

Restor­ing a pol­li­na­tor pop­u­la­tion that’s been in steep de­cline over the past decade or so won’t hap­pen overnight, Bab­cock said.

“But I think peo­ple are be­com­ing more aware. They aren’t ar­bi­trar­ily spray­ing her­bi­cides and in­sec­ti­cides any­more. Many are check­ing with nearby bee­keep­ers first,” he said.


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