Back in the month of March, I attended the Rutgers Home Gardeners School on the Cook Campus. It was a day packed with information, including how to start your very own herb garden. As a home gardener, foodie and environmentalist, I also took a class by Kim Eierman of EcoBeneficial, who shared with us how to create a year-round pollinator victory garden in the Garden State.
But first, what is a pollinator? According to Rutgers Gardens, a pollinator–which includes bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, hummingbirds and bats–is any type of animal that helps to set seed and produce fruit. Surprisingly almost 90% of plant species and 30% of the world’s crops, including apples, berries, alfalfa and almonds, require pollinators’ assistance, at a cost of more than $15 billion a year according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Unfortunately, Bee Informed reports that from 2014-2015 there was a 42.1% loss of managed colonies (an acceptable loss would be 18.7%) throughout the United States, with New Jersey reporting a 47.6% loss. Pollinator victory gardens are just one way that you can do your part in supporting native pollinators while enjoying the benefits of a healthy garden.
Victory gardens originally became popular during World Wars I and II, as a way for households to provide food for themselves. A pollinator victory garden takes a similar idea, but focuses on attracting, supporting and protecting native pollinators by providing water, food and shelter for nesting and laying eggs. As Eierman pointed out in her presentation, beautiful green lawns, common to most neighborhoods, are practically dead zones for local pollinators. Victory gardens are not only visually stunning, containing flowers, trees and even some of your favorite herbs, but they’re also super easy to maintain.
This spring, think beyond your normal garden and focus on attracting pollinators that will not only help the growing problem of pollinator loss, but will also help your garden (and your neighbor’s garden) flourish. Here are four steps for creating a pollinator victory garden:
Start with native species of plants that bloom from spring through fall. What should you plant? Eierman suggests planting flowers, trees and bushes that not only flower yearlong and provide food from spring to fall, but also plant a variety of different shapes and sizes of flowers so that pollinators with all different lengths of tongues can feed. Begin with Dutchman’s Breeches in the early spring, follow with Black Cherry (an “ecological powerhouse”), then St. John’s Wort in early summer, Bergamot (a Monarch’s favorite) and Goldenrod in the fall.
Go pesticide free. Chemicals, especially neonicotinoid (or neonic) pesticides, are the number one threat to pollinators according to the NRDC. Unfortunately, many of the plants purchased at larger garden stores are pretreated with neonic pesticides. Rutgers Spring Flower Fair, running from May 6th through 8th, is the perfect opportunity for you to stock up on some of your favorite native plants while adding some new favorites to your pollinator garden.
Provide a water source. You may already have a bird bath, but adding pebbles or rocks to serve as “landing pads” will allow pollinators of all sizes to access water without drowning. Be sure to change the water frequently to minimize the presence of mosquitoes.
Don’t clean up until the spring. In the fall, we tend to tidy up, trim perennials, rake brush and take down dead tree limbs. It may look nice to the eye, however our urge to purge takes away potential nesting opportunities for pollinators over the winter. Wait until it’s warm enough for bees to emerge from their nests in the spring and you’ll be the best pollinator landlord on the block.
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