An Ecosystem Essential: Why Pollinators are Important in Your Garden
What is Pollination?
In layman's terms, we cannot live without pollinators and pollination. It is essential to the survival and functions of our ecosystem. Without pollinators, the human race and the earth's ecosystem would not survive. Pollen, or that yellow dust you see on plants, contains the plant's male sex cells, a quintessential link in its reproductive cycle.
When you see insects flying from one plant to another, you are watching the pollination process. The insects are collecting nectar for themselves, but as they do so, pollen collects on their bodies and rubs off onto other flowers they land on. This fertilizes the flowers, the plant will grow seeds, and ultimately fruit from the seeds. Without pollination, plants that bear fruits, seeds, and vegetables, virtually all plants, would not produce them at all.
When adequately done, pollination allows for:
- Production and reproduction of seeds for distribution and propagation
- Maintenance of genetic diversity within a plant population
- Fruits, vegetables, and seeds adequately develop and disperse
Environmental Benefits of Pollination
All flowering plants produce oxygen; the breathable kind that all living creatures survive off of. Plants take in carbon dioxide produced by the animals and expel oxygen in the process of photosynthesis. In the last century, levels of carbon dioxide have been increasing fairly rapidly. There has been increase in burning fossil fuels and the destruction of many essential forests.
The most important factors of wild plant reproduction are pollinators. They are what keeps our disrupted global landscape and struggling "lungs" of the earth alive. Even if our earth's soil, nutrients, air, etc. were perfect, none of that would matter if our air was not clean.
Biodiversity is the measure of the variation of species at the ecosystem level. A very fancy term for, "there are a lot of different varieties". Without pollination, there would be a significant drop in the diversity of crops, grasses, trees, and flowers. If pollinators went extinct we would slowly lose any ability to grow the crops we consume every day, including onions, potatoes, apples, etc.
Types of Pollinators
We all know the typical honeybee pollinators, there are plenty of other pollinators our ecosystem depends on and they include:
- Bats (yes, really, bats)
- Bumble and Mason Bees
Why Pollinators are in Need of Help!
Pollinators are slowly being killed off but we as humankind can save them. Something as small as planting a pollinator garden can make all the difference for your backyard pollinators!
Pesticides are nothing new, we have been using them for decades to help keep those pesky creatures from causing any damage to our plants. However, their strong chemicals not only kill off the bad insects but also harm the good ones too. Many pesticides nowadays are labeled as "neonicotinoids." This class of pesticide was registered in 1984 with the Environmental Protection Agency as a less toxic option to mammals. However, we are just now seeing their terrible effects on pollinators. Opt for organic alternatives when gardening.
As the human world expands and becomes more ever-growing by the second, we are destructing the habitats of our essential ecosystem employees. Once luscious meadows and woodland borders are now pristine, well-kept home lawns. Natural vegetation is being torn down and replaced with modern landscaping. While we are growing, we are demolishing nesting sites for pollinators and removing all their food sources.
How to Create a Pollinator Garden
As we mentioned, one of the most important ways you can help pollinators is by creating a pollinator-friendly garden in your yard. Here are our recommended steps to creating the perfect home for pollinators.
- Find plants native to your region: When you include a wide variety of natives, you will make your garden an ideal destination for pollinators. Before you go out and buy all the best plants for pollinators, make sure you buy plants that will thrive in your climate. Be aware that natives will flourish without the addition of any pesticides or fertilizers.
- Choose nectar- & pollen-rich flowers: Each type of pollinator has a unique technique for sourcing nectar and pollen. Therefore, diversity is the key to creating a perfect pollinator garden. This will widen the variety of pollinators that are attracted to your space. Go crazy with shapes, sizes, colors, and garden layout. This is completely up to you and what size your space is.
- Avoid modern hybrids: Some garden plants have been manipulated for beautiful shows of color and larger blooms, but in turn, those flowers have lost their ability to produce nectar and pollen. When purchasing annuals and perennials, buy older heirloom varieties that are known to have pollen and nectar. Overall, a pollination garden is not time for experimenting with new plants, stick to the ones that are proven to work.
- Choose plants that bloom from early spring to late fall: To maximize the effectiveness of your pollinator garden, choose a variety of plants in bloom throughout various seasons. Overlapping bloom times will ensure there is always some type of pollinator in your garden.
- Add larval host plants: If you want butterflies to be a pollinator in your garden, you must add plants that attract caterpillars. Be wary that they will eat these plant's leaves, so place these plants away from plain sight so no one sees the damaged leaves. Asclepias, also known as Butterfly Weed are perfect host plants for pollinators. In fact, the Monarch Butterfly exclusively lays their eggs on these plants.
- Avoid landscape fabric and mulch: Instead of any burlap or mulch, plant your flowers closer together. Placing them close and in a variety of heights forms a weed barrier that is much more efficient than mulch.
- Add artificial nectar resources: You can provide extra, artificial, nectar to your garden by using a hummingbird feeder. Just use 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. Avoid any artificial sweeteners. Also, always remember to clean your feeder, just with hot water, a couple of times a week to avoid any mold.
While many people shriek at the sight of buzzing bugs and icky insects, real gardeners know that pollinators are here to help in every possible way. Pollinators help control a variety of ecosystem routines and help keep our planet happy. Whether you are adding pollinator-friendly plants to your garden or creating an entire garden for pollinator plants, you are helping keep these essential creatures a part of our world and we are sure they would say thank you if they could talk of course.