MASTER GARDENER: Giving pollinators a helping hand | Lifestyles | – The Daily News Online

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June 21-27 is National Pollinator Week.This annual event is celebrated in support of pollinator health. It has grown into an international event over the past 14 years.Insect pollinators include bees, flies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and beetles.Why should you care about pollinators?They are responsible for moving pollen from one flower to another so that a plant can reproduce by seeds or fruit. Many of the things we love to eat are pollinated by insects.They are also important in the environment as they help native trees, shrubs and flowers create seeds and fruit that other wildlife depend upon. Pollinators are in trouble because of habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation; pesticide use or misuse; invasive species; plus introduced diseases and parasites.Insect populations are in decline around the world, not just pollinators. Most insects are not harmful, many are beneficial.Some insects help control those “bad” insects. Insects provide food for birds, reptiles, and some mammals.There are insects that are decomposers and take care of dead plants and animals. Some insects, like fireflies, are just plain interesting and fun to have in your yard.What would summer be without their flashing lights?The Xerces Society, which works toward invertebrate conservation, has started a “Bring Back the Pollinators” campaign. It has four simple steps: grow pollinator-friendly flowers; provide nesting habitat; avoid pesticides; and spread the word to your friends, family, co-workers, city officials and anyone who will listen.Just like anything else, for pollinators to be successful they need food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. Most of us find it pretty easy to plant flowers that will provide pollen and nectar but what about nesting sites?Different pollinators have different nesting habitat requirements. Your yard might not be big enough to provide all the elements for a wide variety of pollinators, but you can start with one and go from there.Our native bees tend to be either ground or cavity nesters.Ground nesting bees need access to bare ground. They cannot dig through wood mulches which cover many of our gardens. Lawn and pavement are also not usable habitat for them.Avoid using landscape fabric or dyed wood chips. Consider mulching with compost or leaves. Or just mulch the front of your garden that is visible to people and use leaves in the back of the garden.As plants grow up the leaves become invisible. Plus, they break down adding organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.Ground nesting bees are not the same as aggressive ground nesting wasps.Many of the ground nesting bees are small, solitary, non-aggressive bees. Some are early spring pollinators of plants like fruit trees.Cavity nesting bees need old plant stems or dead wood to make their nests in.Some bees take advantage of old beetle holes. Others create brood chambers in last year’s hollow stemmed plants.Mason bees and leafcutter bees will use wooden nesting blocks or pieces of bamboo.You can make and provide nesting sites for these bees. Don’t go overboard with the “bee hotels” though.Too many in one place can lead to diseases and parasites finding your bees.Leaving natural materials for the bees is pretty simple. Reduce what you are cutting down during your annual spring clean-up. Cut the shaggy tops off but leave the stems.They will use old stems from a variety of flowers such as bee balm, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, and cup plant. Elderberry, roses, and old raspberry canes are also potential bee homes.Placing dead tree limbs along paths or at the back of the garden can also provide cavity nesters a haven.Pollinators need food spring through fall, so it is important to have a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers blooming through the seasons.Native plants are generally the best choice but many ornamental garden plants and even vegetables can provide nectar and pollen. Annuals can help you provide flowers when you may not have anything else in bloom. Even a container of flower or herbs can attract pollinators to your door.If you are interested in creating a pollinator garden from scratch do your research first. Create a list of plants for your site conditions that will provide nectar and pollen spring through frost.Goldenrods, asters and sunflowers are the powerhouse families when it comes to native plants. Planting in drifts is preferable to planting one or two plants. Bees and butterflies like to go from flower to flower.Night blooming flowers will support moths.Avoid hybrid double flowers where pollen and nectar are not accessible. Bees like blue, purple and yellow flowers. Blossoms that are flat or shallow will attract a variety of bee species. Long-tongued bees can access flowers that have spurs or tubular flowers.Start reducing the number of pesticides you use in your garden.Even organic pesticides can kill bees and other beneficial insects. Never spray a plant that is in bloom. Try using cultural or mechanical techniques when dealing with pests first.You must have a certain number of aphids to feed the ladybugs in your garden. If you have a bad pest outbreak, choose an insecticide that can target that pest rather than a broad-spectrum insecticide — which kills everything — whenever possible.Systemic insecticides can also kill pollinators as it can be present in nectar and pollen as it is distributed throughout the plant.Install a pollinator habitat sign to let your neighbors know that you’re providing a safe place for pollinators.Signs can help explain what you are trying to accomplish, especially if you yard does not look like everyone else’s, i.e., mown lawn. Encourage them to do the same. Help create a pollinator friendly neighborhood.I think you’ll be amazed by the variety of pollinators that will show up in your garden if you do even a few of these steps.Start checking out your flowers to see who might “bee” there. New York has over 400 native bees in a variety of sizes and colors, each unique in its own way.Have a gardening question?Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. You can stop in at our CCE office at 420 East Main St. in Batavia.

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