Update from Charlie Horn: A recording of Margery Winters’ online webinar is available on our YouTube Channel, and Margery shared Planting for Pollinators filled with additional resources for protecting our native pollinators. Many thanks to our cosponsors: Bloomfield Beautification Committee, Bloomfield Conservation, Energy & Environment Committee, Bloomfield Leisure Services, and Simsbury Land Trust.
Margery is Assistant Director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center, President of the Simsbury Land Trust, and Chair of the Simsbury Conservation Commission, and her expertise was clear. She provided a riveting and information-packed talk followed by a lively Q & A to a large virtual audience. We gained a clear idea of the dangers pollinators are facing, especially our native pollinators, and she provided us with many ways to help protect and enhance pollinators:
Half of all plant species depend upon pollinators to survive. In Connecticut over 300 native bee species have evolved to depend on native plants. For example, the native Miner Bee feeds primarily on the Trout Lily, a lovely early spring wildflower whose flowers emerge just as the bee breaks dormancy, the Spicebush Swallowtail needs the native Spicebush, the Monarch Butterfly needs Milkweed to survive, and many other native pollinators are similarly adapted to forage on specific plants. An alarming decline in native pollinators is occurring due to loss of habitat for the native plants (often replaced by lawns – “a biological wasteland” – or pretty, non-native ornamentals that support far fewer caterpillars and provide less nutrition to pollinators), contamination from non-native commercial bees, and more extreme weather due to climate change. Also more broad-spectrum pesticides are used in urban yards than in agricultural areas, creating seriously negative impacts on native pollinators and resulting in more pesticides in urban streams than in agricultural streams.
What we choose to plant in our yards can have a big impact. Native plants are best to serve the specialized native pollinators. For example, native shrubs such as the American Dogwood do “double duty” offering both flowers and berries that are the right size for local birds, whereas Kousa Dogwoods are non-native with berries enjoyed by monkeys but too large for our birds. Plant for a full season of flowers, and be sure to include trees such as Red Maples and Shadbush that flower early. Goldenrod (not its allergy-inducing neighbor Ragweed) and the late-blooming Witch Hazel give pollinators good late forage. Mountain Mint is an absolute must and a very important plant for pollinating insects. It makes Bee Balm pale in comparison! Try planting in masses as it makes it easier for the pollinators when they don’t have to hopscotch over a garden to get to a specific plant.
She also recommended providing some water and a wet area for “puddling,” especially now as we are in a period of drought. Use non-toxic methods to control pests, and get rid of standing water on your property to deter mosquitoes before treating chemically.
More welcome advice was to let our yards be a bit messy! Give the solitary nesting native bees and other hibernating pollinators places to abide the winter in the brush pile, an unpruned shrub, or an unmulched bare spot. Seed pods on spent flower heads are a good source of food in the fall, so leave them standing. Leaves are a much better mulch than bark mulch, so do less raking. Bring some life into that barren lawn space, and let your lawn grow native violets and clover by raising the mower blade or even converting some of your yard to meadow. When asked about how to avoid running afoul of local weed ordinances or complaints of a messy yard, she responded she has found that making the yard look “intentional” by mowing borders and a path helps placate others.