How to Create a Pollinator-friendly Habitat

The following is sponsored by Slow the Flow.

Pollinators play an integral part in the production of one-third of all fruits, vegetables, fibers, medicines and oils we use to survive. Utah is home to 900 species of native bees, 25 species of butterflies, and five species of migratory hummingbirds. As our cities and towns expand, roads, homes and lawns displace our valuable pollinator heritage. Habitat loss, coupled with disease and broad-spectrum pesticide use, has led to pollinator decline, creating noticeable agricultural and biodiversity consequences. Luckily, Utah homeowners, there is something simple that we can do to benefit pollinators and enrich our lives in the process!

Pollinators need food and protection found in our flower, vegetable, shrub and tree gardens. Planting waterwise and native perennial flower beds not only benefits pollinators, but also uses roughly half the water of turf; removes carbon dioxide and toxins from the air; and creates curb appeal to increase homes’ value. The presence of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds signifies a beneficial and healthy ecosystem. Ecosystem diversity reduces problem management in the yard, leaving more time to enjoy.
Follow these five practices to create a pollinator-friendly and sustainable habitat:

1. Plant an all-season buffet of pollinator-friendly plants!

• Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds need pollen and nectar from flowers in the spring, summer and fall.
• Clump flowering plants together rather than putting in single plants.
• Avoid “doubled” (multiple layers of petals between the bee and the pollen) flowers; think of what it would be like fighting to get in your pantry for food.
• Go here for recommended plants with diverse bloom periods: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1907&context=extension_curall.

2. Provide water; we need it and so do they.

• Pollinators need water for drinking as well as reproduction. The less distance they have to go for water, the more they pollinate!
• Place a saucer with water, a birdbath or a small fountain with some flat stones in a shady location. The visiting pollinators use the stones for a place to land while drinking.
• Clean and replace the water one to two times per week to avoid algae and mosquitoes. Use the excess water to water your plants.

3. Provide nesting habitat for pollinators (homes for next generations).

• Hummingbirds nest in trees and shrubs, and use plant materials to build their nests. Butterflies lay their eggs on specific host plants, such as milkweeds. A favorite Monarch butterfly host plant is Asclepias tuberosa (see photo). The orange, long-blooming blossoms and unique seed pods provide interest all season long.
• We often think of the honeybee when talking about pollinators. Most bees nest in the ground, in old wood, or even in plant stems. Elderberry stems have a pithy center, which is great for nesting bundles.

4. Go easy on the pesticides.

• This could be the most important thing you do for many reasons. Use pesticides only when problem thresholds are high, preventative measures have been met, and manual eradication (fingers) isn’t working.
• Pesticides can leave residuals that kill pollinators even days after application. If you must use a pesticide, use the least toxic material possible; the label will indicate toxicity to bees.
• Spray after dusk, when bees and other pollinators are less active, and never spray blooming plants. If you wouldn’t want to breathe it in, they shouldn’t either.

5. Share your ideas with friends and family.

• Teaching others about your success and the benefits of your actions encourages others to be proactive. It also provides an extraordinary opportunity for kids to learn about and enjoy nature.

Written by Faye Rutishauser, state water conservation coordinator with the Utah Division of Water Resources, a Slow the Flow partner.