Last week was National Pollinator Week to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators in our lives and ecosystems.
Honey bees are not the only insect or animal that provides pollinator services. They are the most noticeable because of the honey they produce and their occasional run-ins with people who get too close to a hive. Others include solitary native bumble, mason, alfalfa and leafcutter bees as well as flies, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, animals passing by (including humans) and the wind.
Pollinating critters are in trouble across the country as open land is developed and the native ecosystems that once sustained their varied populations are broken up into smaller and smaller pieces. Pieces that can no longer support a thriving plant and pollinator community.
While no one person is going to solve or even put a dent in this problem, each of us can do a little bit to help. First, limit or eliminate the use of pesticides that will not only kill the bug that is damaging your garden but a lot of the pollinating insects that live there are well. Long-acting pesticides containing noenicitinoids (neonics) are particularly hard on pollinators. For a list of pesticides that contain them, go to: www.beyondpesticides.org.
Redesign your garden to include pollinator friendly plants that bloom in succession through growing season. Aster, sunflower, lavender, allium, salvia, Russian sage, culinary sage and golden rod are just a few that do well here. Add native plants like Oregon grape, serviceberry, milkweed and penstemon. For a good list of Inland Northwest native plants go to the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s publication: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov and then check out our local native plant nurseries.
Most pollinator plants need full sun to flower well and many of the natives are drought tolerant once they are established (about two years). Plant single varieties in groups to make it easy for the pollinators to move from flower to flower.
Provide a variety of water sources for the insects and birds. Birds are drawn to a shallow bird bath with a little dribble of water for drinking and bathing. Hummingbirds gather around hanging feeders filled with a 4-to-1, water-to-white sugar mixture. Insects, especially honeybees, will flock to a broad, gently sloped dish that they can land on and then walk to the edge of the water.
Celebrate your garden efforts by registering your now pollinator-friendly garden as an official pollinator habitat through the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. This is an initiative of the National Pollinator Garden Network, a broad consortium of garden, pollinator, and conservation communities working together to support the health of pollinating animals through the creation of habitat. Go to: http://millionpollinatorgardens.org) to register and upload pictures of your garden.
The Spokane area is already on its way to being a welcoming place for pollinators. In 2014, the city of Spokane banned the purchase and use of neonics on city property. This spring, Gonzaga University became the first university campus in Washington state to become an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program.
Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 35 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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