TROY, N.Y. — Nationally, crops pollinated by insects have a nearly $30 billion value.
But pollinator populations are threatened by impacts such as development, which reduces habitat, along with pesticide use and changing weather patterns.
Amy Howansky, of the firm Backyard Solutions, shared tips for “Attracting Pollinators and Birds to the Landscape” at the recent Capital Garden and Flower Show. More than 50 attentive listeners turned out for the workshop, one of many held during the three-day event at Hudson Valley Community College.
“Seventy-five percent of crops require pollinators to get produce from them,” she said. “This even includes cotton and linen from flax plants.”
Bees are the most important pollinator because they have floral foraging constancy, visiting the same flower species on one trip, which makes the pollen exchange most efficient.
“Native bees are better than hired honey bees,” Howansky said.
They’re better able to forage in wet, cold conditions, forage twice as long as honey bees, and contact male flower parts on every visit.
In fact, native bees used for cherry pollination in Utah doubled the fruit production of honey bees, she said.
So it’s extremely important to protect and enhance their habitat.
“In China they’re having such a problem with lack of bees that they’re hand pollinating their apple trees,” Howansky said. “We don’t want to get to that.”
People can help pollinators by recognizing, protecting and expanding existing habitats, restoring damaged sites, and practicing better management techniques.
“The greatest impact we have is mowing,” Howansky said.
She offered several helpful tips on ways to mow without harming, or at least reducing the impact on pollinators. These include:
• Increasing deck height to keep more vegetation for pollinator nesting, and shorter flower plants. “Seventy percent of native bees nest in the ground,” Howansky said.
• Mowing slower so bees and other insects can escape.
• Don’t mow at night when pollinators are “settled in” for the night.
• Mow in staggered patches, only one-quarter or one-third of an area at a time, allowing pollinators to escape, instead of mowing the whole yard at once. Also, dandelions are a perfect early food for bees. So mowing only one part of an area gives bees a chance to work these flowers before they’re mowed off all at once.
Pesticides are another major contributor to declining pollinator populations.
“In Canada, spraying for spruce budworm killed mason, mining and bumble bees, and reduced the blueberry crop,” Howansky said. “It took years for that ecosystem to recover and for native bees to come back.”
However, she pointed out that more pesticides per acre are applied in urban areas than on farms because many different types of unregulated chemicals are available to homeowners who have limited education about their use. Society in general needs to get away from the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mindset, by feeling they have to have the perfect lawn and yard, she said.
Pesticides can drift from 1.5 to 7 miles.
Howansky encouraged the use of “Pollinator Pathway Pockets,” or habitat stepping stones that allow them to move from one location to another. Instead of mowing off fence rows and along ditches, these sites can be left untouched to attract pollinators.
Residents may also get a “garden waiver” from utility companies such as National Grid that allows them to grow garden vegetables or pollinator plants under power lines.
Plants should be placed in sunny areas, open to the sky, so pollinators can navigate to them.
Howansky then described some of the many plants that are helpful for attracting pollinators. Host plants provide pollinators with nectar, pollen and larval food, along with mating, nesting and hibernation sites. Hollow stem plants, such as elderberry, raspberry and sumac, are especially good for nesting.
Native plants are four times more likely to attract native bees and support three times more species of butterflies and moths. Nature shrubs support 14 times more pollinator species, she said.
“We want to have floral diversity, different size, color, shapes and height,” Howansky said.
In each season, there should be at least three different plant types that flower at the same time. Spring examples are magnolia, columbine and lupine.
There are more than two dozen plant species to choose from in summer such as swamp milkweed, cosmos, basil and purple coneflower. Asters, sunflower and goldenrod are good in autumn.
Annuals that attract hummingbirds include petunias, begonias, snapdragons and zinnias.
For more information, Howansky can be contacted at 518-374-6525 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.