A way to have a direct impact on the lives of bees: honey bees, native bees and bumble bees as well as other pollinators like moths and butterflies is to make our yards more pollinator friendly. Honey bees continue to die off at alarming rates with beekeepers across the United States losing 40% of their colonies from April 2018 to April 2019. Since bees pollinate one third of the food crops we eat, this trend has grave implications for the security of our future food supply.
During this time of self-quarantining and social isolation, having a project outside in the beautiful spring weather can help improve one’s mood and mitigate anxieties about the Coronavirus epidemic. Knowing your efforts are helping pollinators in your neighborhood can also make this difficult time of uncertainty and fear both meaningful and productive.
Pollinator gardens are not hard to build and they can be as simple or as elaborate as you are inclined to make them. Children often have very creative insights when it comes to designing things, so this is a great family project to do together.
Identify a Location [Can do now. No need to go to the store.]
The sunnier the location the better to encourage maximum blooms, however any area in your yard that receives a few hours of sun per day would work too. If the area is covered in grass, remove the grass and cover with a tarp for a week or so to kill any remaining grass. You can till the soil to get it ready for planting and add in any compost or mulch you might have laying around. If you don’t have any soil enrichment, that’s fine. You can always add it later when you plant your plants or wait until next spring to kick-start their growth.
Choose Native Plants Whenever Possible [Can make a plant list now for later shopping or order online.]
Plant native plants to grown in your ecoregion. These plants will provide important pollinator forage and protection. Enriching your garden with native plants means you are landscaping with flowers, shrubs and trees that are naturally suited to the environment in which you live. Native plants require less water and are not dependent on pesticides in order to thrive. Flowers native to the US such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and asters are great choices and are the favorites of many pollinators. If you’d like to also attract butterflies and hummingbirds, plant butterfly weed and bee balm.
Pick a Variety of Plants for Three Seasons of Bloom [Can make a plant list now for later shopping or order online.]
Many pollinators start their work in early to mid-spring and continue collecting pollen and nectar into the fall. So be sure to plant a variety of different flower species to support them from March through October. Bloom times for different flower species are readily available online at many nursery sites and also your home state’s department of plants and natural resources websites.
Avoid the Use of Insecticides [Pledge to use natural pest control instead.]
There’s a variety of natural pest control measures you can use on your yard including prevention, beneficial insects and nontoxic remedies. Astonishingly, homeowners use about three times the quantity of pesticides as do farmers, which amounts to approximately 136 million pounds of pesticides a year for residential use alone in North America. In fact, residential use of pesticides is primarily responsible for most surface water contamination and the majority of animal poisonings. Consider letting certain parts of your yard "go wild" and return to their natural state as they can support more ecosystem diversity.
Water Is Important [Especially in the hot summer months.]
Ensure a fresh water supply—leave out a shallow bowl filled with water and floating wine corks or river stones for pollinators to safely land on to drink. Keep your garden well-watered so its flowers produce more nectar (provided you are not under drought restrictions).
Less Maintenance Is Better [Hurrah! Something really easy NOT to do.]
Cut your grass less frequently so that pollinator-friendly plants like daisies, clover and other wildflowers can grow up and bloom. When winter comes, be sure to leave up the dried stems from that year’s garden. These stems provide homes for insects and nesting material for birds, helping them to grow strong and healthy next year.