It’s Spring! Harness the Fever!

It’s already spring in Bee City USA – Lake City, SC where Moore Farms Botanical Gardens landscapes downtown with lots of pollinator-friendly natives.

As the days grow brighter and the grass greener, most of us experience some measure of spring fever. Here are five things Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can do to take advantage of that primal urge to grab a shovel!

1. Tell your community that urban and suburban landscapes matter.
The National Pollinator Garden Network (with which Bee City USA and the Xerces Society are partners) announced vastly exceeding the goal of one million pollinator gardens on February 27. In the announcement, they referenced a growing body of research showing significant impact from small scale gardens. While honey bees usually fly in about a three-mile radius from their hives, some native bees have very small home ranges and may fly as little as 500 feet from where they emerge as adults. Therefore, they need a succession of flowers nearby throughout the growing season. Bee taxonomist for the US Geological Survey and coauthor of Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World, Sam Droege said, “A little goes a long way. Homeowners should think of their gardens as restitution. Most American gardens have access to a hundred species of bees. Indeed, Prince George’s County, Maryland, hosts 260 bee species in contrast to the entire United Kingdom which hosts only 250 bee species. In some cases, when we plant a diversity of native plants, we can attract even more pollinator species than may have been there before.” 

2. Promote the recommended native wildflower and tree species list that Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates commit to create and disseminate.
Pollinators co-evolved over thousands to millions of years with native plants for their mutual benefit. By planting exotic trees, shrubs, and plants that are often unrecognizable or unpalatable as food to many native pollinators, we have degraded pollinators’ food sources. Making your community more pollinator-friendly starts with incorporating a diversity of native flowering plants. Many trees, shrubs and grasses that don’t even flower act as larval hosts for hungry butterfly and moth caterpillars. Others offer nectar—a pollinator’s carbohydrate—for native bees, moths, beetles, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and their pollen provides bees with essential protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. 

3. Promote growers and retailers that sell native plants.
Pollinator advocates can ardently encourage the public to plant natives, but if those plants are not available for purchase, the public can’t plant them. Nurseries are businesses, and businesses need customers to buy their products or services. Since the nurseries that supply native plants are often very small, their tolerance for risk is smaller than larger businesses. If they’re selling trees and shrubs, they have to plan several years ahead before the tree or shrub matures enough to sell.  Likewise, if they sell perennials, they don’t want to have to overwinter them if they don’t sell. If you want to be able to find native plants, it’s important to support those local nurseries and retailers. Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can promote nursery openings and spring plant sales, and highlight the pollinators to be supported by certain native plants. Guest editorials, letters to the editor, news stories, E-newsletters, emails, and social media posts can bring the customers those growers and retailers need to survive. The more people ask for particular native plants, the greater the chance the growers will propagate them for the next season. We also recommend using the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Seed Finder and Pollinator Conservation Resource Center to locate, support, and celebrate vendors near you!  

Bee Campus USA – SUNY Cortland garden intern Jessica Moore gets help from nearby child care center to establish salsa garden, vegetable soup garden, and herb and perennial beds. in the community garden boxes between Memorial Library and Cornish Hall. The project is sponsored by the SUNY Cortland Garden.

4. Host and promote planting and habitat enhancement events.
Today, four out of five people live in urban areas. While individual yards may seem too small to help imperiled pollinators, a University of Chicago study showed that 4493 small gardens in Chicago totaled 51 acres. They also found the highest pollinator visitation in the neighborhoods with the highest human density. (Lowenstein, et al, 2014). Just because a plant species will grow in a certain planting zone doesn’t mean it should be planted where it’s not native. Even though flower generalists like honey bees and bumble bees can forage non-native invasive species like kudzu and privet, we urge you to remove them whenever possible to make room for the natives. You can also help native pollinators by planting fruit trees; herbs like mint, oregano, parsley, and lavender; or flowering annuals like old-fashioned cosmos, zinnias and single sunflowers. A diversity of plants attracts a diversity of pollinators, and supports biodiversity generally.  ​

5. Take the mullet approach! 
If your neighborhood has rigid landscaping rules, make it business in the front and party in the back! Mulch areas of the front yard neatly to provide habitat for ground nesters, and go more natural in your side and back yards. Use the “edge effect” around beds or natural areas to give the appearance of tidiness and integrate an attractive sign in your yard to let your neighbors know your landscaping may look a little different because you are inviting pollinators.  

In short, if we take care of the pollinators, they will take care of us. Happy gardening!

Author’s Note: Sam Droege is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.

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