Plant flowers for pollinators — and for show

Pender gardener

A honey bee gathers nectar and pollen from a late blooming variety of aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’).

Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 at 10:41 AM.

Flowers serve a much greater purpose than just decorating your landscape. Did you realize that planting flowers in your yard can help support local agriculture, ensure the availability of fruits and vegetables, and protect thousands of plant and animal species? All of this is true if you plant flowers that sustain pollinators, and the added bonus is they also make your yard more attractive.

Why flowers are needed

Pollinators, which include bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, hummingbirds, and bats, make reproduction possible for more than three fourths of the flowering plants on earth, including many of the fruits and vegetables we eat every day. Without pollinators, local farmers would struggle to grow blueberry, strawberries, tomatoes, squash, and many other vegetables. In addition, pollinators play a critical role in preserving diverse native communities by assisting the reproduction of wild plants that a myriad of insects, birds, mammals, and other animals rely upon for food and shelter.

Bees are the most prolific, efficient and productive pollinators in the world. While European honeybees are the most well known pollinators, North American also hosts an amazing variety of native bees, including bumble bees, sweat bees, miner bees, and mason bees. Populations of both honeybees and native bees have been declining over the last 50 years.

Reasons for bee decline include disease and parasite infection, habitat loss, and stress caused by pesticide exposure and poor nutrition. Bees gather nectar and pollen from flowers, to feed themselves and their offspring. To stay strong and maintain healthy colonies, bees need a season long supply of flowers that have not been contaminated with pesticides. As gardeners, we can play a critical role in reversing this alarming trend by planting pollinator friendly flowers.

Pollinator-friendly flowers

While honey bees are adapted to feed on a wide range of flowers, many of our native bees specialize in feeding on native plants. Including native plants in your landscape will support the widest range of pollinators. When selecting plants to support pollinators, look for varieties with single rather than double flowers, since the extra petals on double flowers can make it more difficult for bees to access their pollen and nectar.

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