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Guest columnist John Root: A week to celebrate the beauty of pollinators

  • This May 20, 2015 photo shows Containerized chive blossoms in a yard near Langley, Wash., which attract a variety of bee species. AP



Thursday, June 25, 2020

Many of us think of insects as “those pesky bugs,” and there is no shortage of products that promise to eliminate them from our midst.

However, insects are vital lynchpins in terrestrial ecosystems, and we really can’t live without them. They recycle nutrients, and birds and other wildlife depend on them for food. Pollinators also fertilize 75% all flowering plants (including 30% of food crops), ensuring fruit set as well as providing for genetic diversity.

Populations of all insects have been plummeting in recent decades, jeopardizing our survival as well as our entire ecosystem. Causes of their rapid decline include widespread use of systemic pesticides, loss of habitat, climate disruption and light pollution. At the current rate of population collapse, insects will be functionally gone by the end of the century unless we take meaningful action.

For these reasons, the Amherst Town Council passed a pollinator resolution on June 15 committing the town to minimizing pesticide use and managing town-owned land for pollinator habitat. Also, National Pollinator Week, initiated by Pollinator Partnership (pollinator.org), is June 22-28, and now’s a good time as ever to learn how to protect their lives and ours!

So how can you be a pollinator champion?

Make your lawn bee-friendly. Mow every other week or less often at a height of three or four inches to allow clover, violets, thyme, dandelions and other lawn flowers to bloom, and then watch with pride as hungry native bees, honeybees and other pollinators feast on your offerings.

Replace unused lawn with pollinator plants to enhance wildlife habitat. Carpets of close-cropped grass are food deserts for wildlife and lawns. Sheet mulching (smothering your lawn with an organic barrier such as cardboard or several thicknesses of newspaper and covering that with mulch) is an easy, no-dig way to eliminate grass or other unwanted vegetation to create a blank slate.

Planting a variety of flowering trees and shrubs, creating wildflower meadows and pollinator gardens, establishing flowering groundcovers, and even mowing just once a year are all ways to welcome wildlife.

Use a planting calendar to ensure that several different plant species will be in bloom from spring through fall so that pollinators are supplied with pollen and nectar for their entire life spans.

Consider reducing your lawn area by at least 25% to welcome beneficial wildlife — you’ll be glad you did!

Welcome caterpillars with native plantings. Butterfly and moth larvae need to eat a lot before they pupate, but are often not be able to digest the leaves of non-native plants. Plant a variety of native trees, shrubs and forbs so that their nutritional needs can be met.

Provide shelter and places for insects to raise their young. Leave fallen leaves and other dead plant matter until the spring for insect habitat. Instead of mulching all of your beds, provide bare patches of ground for tunneling native bees and make a bee hotel with Japanese knotweed stems or other hollow stalks for cavity-nesting mason bees and leafcutter bees.

Provide water. Pollinators get thirsty, too! Make sure your water source has a shallow or sloping side so that they can easily approach the water without drowning.

Post a pollinator habitat sign. Pollinator habitat can look unkempt, especially in winter when there are no colorful flowers to admire. Proclaiming to the world what you’re doing to help our hard-working pollinators will educate and inspire others to emulate your efforts.

 

Landscaping for nature is a richly rewarding adventure for people of all ages, allowing us to closely observe a variety of organisms and marvel at their beauty and complexity. For beginning gardeners, there is no shortage of ways to learn. In addition to books and the internet, you can get answers to your gardening questions from garden centers, master gardeners, and university extension services.

Neighbors can also be a great source of advice, as well as free perennials. You’ll have a chance to be generous with information and plants yourself in no time by availing yourself of these resources.

Lists of area landscaping professionals, nurseries offering organically grown seeds and plants, and information about creating and maintaining pollinator gardens can be found at the Western Mass Pollinator Networks website, wmassbees.org. WMPN also offers “Wild for Pollinator” garden signs at a sliding scale to proclaim that your land is providing essential wildlife habitat. Contact us if you would like to participate in our regional campaign to protect and promote pollinators.

John Root is a naturalist/landscaper and member of the Western Mass Pollinator Networks.