By Lyn Chimera, Master Gardener – Cornell Cooperative Extensino
Without pollinators, our lives would be radically different. About 75 percent of all flowering plants depend on pollinators for fertilization. This includes about one-third of all our food and beverage plants. (Imagine life without coffee and chocolate!)
Seriously, pollination is one of the requirements to complete the life cycle of plants.
Just what is pollination? Basically, it’s the movement of pollen from one flower to another, which is necessary for reproduction. Pollinators are mostly after the nectar in flowers, and sometimes pollen. It is during their search for nectar that pollinators inadvertently get pollen from the flower on them, and thereby transfer it to the next flower they visit.
Many people think of bees as the main pollinators, but there are actually eight other creatures that do this work as well: birds, bats, butterflies, beetles, flies, wasps, moths and small mammals. Some plants have sticky pollen which needs to have pollinators visit their flowers and carry the pollen from flower to flower.
There’s another important contributor to pollination—the wind. The plants that rely on wind have light pollen that is blown by the wind like conifers, which spread their yellow pollen all over everything in early spring. At our house we have to wait until after the pine pollen is done to put our porch furniture out or else we would have to clean it off every day.
There has been a lot in the news over the past decade or so about the decline of pollinators and the collapse of many honeybee hives. What doesn’t make the news is that other pollinating insects are also in decline. We can help reduce this decline by taking a few easy steps.
1. Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. The problem with most pesticides is that they don’t just kill the targeted insect, they kill ALL insects that come in contact with it. Most of the insects in your garden are considered beneficial and are there to help. Many control harmful insects, are pollinators or helpful in other ways like decomposing. So, by trying to eliminate a few insects you are really harming many unnecessarily.
2. Create a pollinator-friendly habitat by including native plants. Many people think of native plants as being weedy and some can be. However, the majority of natives, if planted in the right location, make excellent additions to any garden. The native plants and animals, insects and birds evolved together over thousands of years and depend on each other for food, habitat and pollination. Many of the plants we have in our gardens originate from other countries and do not function as a food source for our pollinators. For information on what to plant in your area, download a free ecoregional guide online at: www.pollinator.org
3. Educate your friends, school, government etc. about the importance of pollinators and what can be done to help. You can get lots of information and join the Pollinator Partnership at:www.pollinator.org
Those who have vegetable gardens will increase their yield by encouraging pollinators. In the last few years we have had many questions on the Master Garden Helpline about why their squash or other veggies would bloom, but not produce. It’s often due to lack of pollination. By planting flowering plants you will attract the necessary pollinators. Plan your flowers so that a few varieties are blooming throughout the season.
A fun way to learn more about pollinators is at The Buffalo Botanical Gardens Pollinator Festival, Sunday, June 14 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Native gardening, butterfly, honeybee and pollinators are all part of the family fun
There will also be a Pollinator Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens from June 14 – August 2.
These activities are part of National Pollinator Week which is June 15-21.
Let’s all do something to help these necessary and fascinating creatures!