From Barren to Bountiful: Create Habitat for Pollinators
Maybe you have a vast (uh hum--useless) lawn, or maybe you’ve only got a tiny patch of garden. No matter what it is, now is the time to transform this spot of earth into a veritable paradise for wild bees and other pollinators.
Why? Globally, bees and other pollinator populations are declining, impacting plant diversity, vegetable and fruit harvests, and of course animals (humans included!) that feed on plants and vegetables. Scientific studies point to habitat loss, climate change and pesticide use as being major factors contributing to the demise of these vital creatures.
Thankfully, city dwellers can do something about this very disturbing global conservation issue.
Research shows that urban environments are actually very good at supporting pollinators. Increasingly, new studies demonstrate significant diversity of pollinators in urban areas due to high flowering plant variety in public and private gardens. There is also minimal use of pesticides and herbicides compared to agricultural landscapes. Creating and connecting pollinator habitats across urban areas is therefore valuable for pollinator health.
It’s makeover time!
Photo Credit: Barb McKean
This is where your garden comes in. Pollinators just need a place full of flowers to forage in, suitable host plants where they can lay their eggs, and a pesticide-free environment.
When choosing plants for the habitat, select native species. Natives species are adapted to the regional climate, require less water and support the native insect populations with which they evolved. Selecting a variety of colours and shapes will attract a diversity of pollinators. It is also very important to have plants that flower at different times, providing nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season (i.e. spring through fall).
It’s very helpful if you leave small piles of fallen branches and leaves for insects to use as shelter. As well, be sure to leave small patches of bare ground (with no mulch!) for ground nesting bees and be mindful of cavity nesting bees that nest in the hollow of stems (there are close to 400 native species of these solitary bees in Ontario!). Supply water “puddles” for butterflies and other pollinators to drink from (like a shallow saucer) and keep your soil healthy.
There are many wonderful resources available to help you on your way, from projects like the Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project
to groups like Pollination Guelph
Remember that you are planting a habitat. It may take several years to become established.
Even the smallest change we make to enhance the habitat of pollinators will be of benefit, not just to the bees and the butterflies, but to all of us.
For information on what Ontario is doing to protect pollinators, check out the Ontario Pollinator Health Action Plan