Did you know that one-third of human crops rely on pollination? Many flowering plants depend on pollinators such as ants, bats, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps and bees to transfer pollen from the male to the female parts of the plant in order to form the seeds that lead to fruit reproduction. Pollinators often do this inadvertently as they are feeding on plant nectar.


Did you know that one-third of human crops rely on pollination?  Many flowering plants depend on pollinators such as ants, bats, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps and bees to transfer pollen from the male to the female parts of the plant in order to form the seeds that lead to fruit reproduction. Pollinators often do this inadvertently as they are feeding on plant nectar.



There is increasing evidence that many pollinators are in decline.  However, there are some simple things you can do at home to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance.  



Plants flowering all season



Most bee species are generalists, feeding on a range of plants through their life cycle. By having several plant species flowering at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.  Additional small plantings of flowers should be created throughout the gardens to bring the tiniest pollinators into close proximity with crops. Diversity in bloom periods, fragrance, flower types and plant heights will help ensure a diversity of pollinators as well as the availability of nectar and pollen sources—not to mention beauty—throughout the growing season.



Include different shapes 



Pollinator insects are all different sizes and will feed on different shaped flowers.  Providing a range of flower shapes means more insects can benefit from the plantings.  It is fascinating to sit in a garden full of flowers on a sunny day and watch how the different kinds of insects interact with different shapes and sizes of flowers. You soon notice that some insects visit a wide range of flowers while others have strong preferences toward specific ones. Some flowers seem to attract a wide range of visitors while other types of flowers attract a very small range, or perhaps only one type of insect. Clearly flowers and insects have co-evolved in complex and subtle ways.



Use local native plants



Choose plants that are native to your area first, but don’t be afraid to add non-natives to the mix. Many herbs and cut flowers provide food and habitat for pollinators. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.



Choose several colors



Many flowers use colors to attract insects, sometimes helped by colored guiding marks.  Some have ultraviolet marks that can be seen by insects but are invisible to human eyes. Flowers are often shaped to provide a landing platform for visiting insects or to force them to brush against parts of the flower. 



Some flowers have scent to attract insects. Many of these scents are pleasing to humans too, but not all some flowers attract flies with the smell of rotting meat. Colors can’t be seen in the dark, so scent is important for flowers that are pollinated by night-flying insects such as moths.



Plant in clumps



Plant flowers in groups of at least 3 to 5 plants; this allows bees to forage more efficiently since they do not have far to move from one plant to the next.  Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat patch. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.



Large natural areas with plenty of flowering plants should be located within a half-mile of vegetable crops because that’s the longest distance native pollinators will fly in search of food. In the absence of natural areas, you can plant a “bee pasture” with red clover to attract bumblebees.



Need some help with a problem or more information?  Check out our website ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local N.C State Extension center: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610. You can also find great local information at nhcarboretum.com and on Facebook. Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.



 



Susan Brown is the consumer horticulture extension agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County. Contact her at susan_brown@ncsu.edu or 910-798-7476.