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Protecting pollinators in your own backyard

Posted by Jenn Collins on June 7, 2021

Pollinator protection has long been a significant initiative for agriculture and environmentalists, making the recent threat of diminishing pollinator populations cause for increased concern. Fortunately, as we have learned from society’s response to other environmental concerns like water pollution, when an environmental issue becomes a hot topic in the general population, significant action takes place. With excitement comes a rush of activity; it can be difficult to interpret all the information coming at us at once, weed out the misinformation, and determine what we can do on an individual level to have an impact on pollinator health.

The good news is that every individual, business, farm, and community can work to encourage pollinator health in our backyards and communities. Resources abound and one of the best is the Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to protecting invertebrates, including pollinators. Its website is a tremendous source of information through a plethora of articles, lists, and links to pollinator health information. Xerces makes it easy to zoom in on your location for local information through their map function.

The core principles for encouraging native bees and other pollinators all focus on making appealing, diverse, and nutritional plant life accessible. To achieve this in your space, consider the following:

  • Identify bee-friendly plant species.  Some plants are healthier and/or more attractive to bees than others. Planting and encouraging these species in your own yard is one of the biggest ways you can help bee populations. Bees tend towards large clumps of the same species, so a garden that has several of the same flower and/or plants them closer together for a more natural and less manicured look will often draw more pollinators and provide them with much needed food and respite. Lists of general and regionally-specific native, pollinator-friendly plant species can be found through Xerces.
  • Consider changes to your regular landscaping regimen. Maintaining the health of your local soil greatly affects plant life and provides healthy nesting options for solitary bees. Waiting as long as possible to start mowing your lawn in the spring allows wildflowers to thrive longer, which, in turn provides more feed for bees. Less frequent mowing is also useful. Those little dandelions and clover flowers most of us race to get rid of can be part of a bee’s staple diet, so the longer they remain accessible, the better. It’s also important to carefully read the labels of any fertilizer and pesticide products you use… yes, even the organics!
  • Discourage invasive species. Invasive plants can be detrimental to bees. Invasive plant species have a tendency to take over areas, outcompeting the native flowers and grasses pollinators need. A great backyard project would be to identify any invasive plants on your property and take steps to control or remove them.
  • Allow nature to be natural.  The best environment for bees is the most natural one: available water and natural life cycles are allowed. In the spring, this involves letting those little wildflowers live as long as possible. In the fall, this means allowing leaves and other decay to stay where they are so they can decompose and become the nutrients essential for healthy soil and plant life. Of course, just like dandelions, most of us don’t like a yard full of leaves, but perhaps we can aim to be less thorough in our raking, letting as much of that precious soil-food stay in place as possible. If you happen to pass by my house this year, just remember I’m not neglecting my yard work, I’m saving the bees!

Not all of us have control over our lawns and yards, but now that we understand the basics, we can start to educate others and promote pollinator protection within our own communities. Why not ask the landlord of your home or office about making small changes with specific recommendations?

Obviously, many of us do not want our yards to become their most natural selves…that’s fine! If you can spare a small area within your yard or garden to convert to natural state with natives thriving, that’s a great start! No one person can save the entirety of the bee population. But if we do what we can to provide little pockets of protective habitat, then we are doing our part to help our native pollinator populations blossom (pun intended).