Supporting Pollinators in our Backyards and Gardens
A landscape made up simply of mowed lawn and a couple of trees won’t provide the food and shelter that native bees and butterflies need to thrive and reproduce. You can create a Pollinator Paradise by making your landscape more complex. You can turn your yard and garden into a welcoming habitat that will benefit our native pollinators, and reward you many times over!
The Bee-Friendly Backyard
New York is home to over 450 native bee species. Along with the imported honeybee these native bees pollinate agricultural crops and wildflowers. Bees aren’t the only pollinators. Specialized flies, beetles, butterflies, birds and bats pollinate our flowering plants too. But honeybees are familiar and many people have heard about honeybee colony collapse disorder and its possible impacts on our food supply. In 2015, Governor Cuomo established an inter-agency task force on Pollinators, with several goals, including pollinator habitat enhancement. That’s where you come in.
Did you know that your backyard can offer habitat and food for these pollinators? The choices you make in planning and caring for your landscape can affect pollinator abundance and species diversity. Just like us, these insects need shelter, food, and an environment safe from harmful chemicals. Here are four steps you can take to make a pollinator paradise.
- Give ‘em Shelter: Most of our native bee species are solitary and do not live in hives. Instead they nest in dead wood and in the soil. Create structural refuge with things like brush piles, wood piles, and areas of exposed, undisturbed soil. That doesn’t fit in with your landscape aesthetic, you say? Then follow step two!
- Make it look deliberate: If a brush pile sounds messy, instead create a decorative wattle fence of bent twigs. Wood pile out of place in your landscape? Add a rustic arbor or bench made of natural, untreated wood. Even a split rail fence can harbor these solitary bees. The key is to create structures that persist through the season and to vary the types of structure so many different species are attracted to the garden.
- Dish up a variety of foods: Many flowers provide nectar. But not all of our tiny solitary pollinators can handle the big flowers. Vary the sizes and types of flowers you plant. Plants in the mint family (both native and introduced) and plants in the “carrot” family, like dill and golden alexanders, have many small flowers that produce lots of nectar. They are attractive to look at and great for solitary bees and other beneficial insects. (See the websites in the sidebar for more plant ideas.) When you purchase plants that flower, be sure to ask if those plants have been pre-treated with a pesticide.
- Use pesticide knowledgably: We understand that sometimes pesticides are needed in a managed landscape. Pesticides include not only insecticides but herbicides and fungicides as well, some of which are very toxic to bees. If you choose to use a pesticide use it wisely. And remember that pollinators are attracted to flowers: you don’t want to poison their food source!
- Avoid spraying plants that are flowering, or if you must spray them, use a low-residual pesticide and spray when bees are not active (early morning or late evening). Another option is to remove the blooms during the treatment window.
- Know the pest’s lifecycle so that you are timing your treatment effectively.
- Use the least toxic pesticide with the shortest residual activity to get the job done. Pesticides that don’t stick around allow pollinators and other beneficial insects to move back in quickly and safely.
- Be conscientious with pesticides that have systemic or long residual action. If they are deemed necessary be sure to remove blooms and understand that some systemic pesticides may be active in the plant for several years.
We encourage you to make your backyard a pollinator paradise. Let your neighbors know what you are up to. Announce your commitment with a sign from one of many bee-friendly organizations (see below). Together our backyards, public gardens and parks offer the possibility for rich and diverse pollinator habitats. Make yours a bee-friendly backyard!
- Pollinator Network @ Cornell
- Master Beekeeper Program
- PDF Booklet: How to protect and increase pollinators in your landscape
- Plant Lists and Backyard Practices: Xerxes Society Backyard Pollinator Habitat
- Plant Lists and Backyard Practices: Pollinator Partnership
- Native Beeology: Bee Field Guide
- Smart Lawns for Pollinators: Michigan State U Extension
- NY Wild Bee Guide:http://www.sharpeatmanguides.com/picture-index
Resources for Educators
- Get the Buzz on Honey Bees: scholastic; lesson plan aligned with National Standards
- Bee-Friendly Backyard article: Bee-Friendly_Backyard_factsheet.js.pdf
- Pollinator 4-up handout: Pollinator_Card.4-up.pdf
- Fear of Flying Article: Fear_of_Flying.FINAL._Fall2016.pdf