Backyard pollinator projects help bees, butterflies

By: 
Rob Zimmer
Columnist

As I’ve mentioned several times over the past few months, gardening for pollinators has become more popular than ever with recent bad news surrounding bumblebees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators. We simply must do more to help these amazing and necessary creatures.

This week, here are some tips and projects you can take on at home to help pollinators locally, right in your own backyard.

One of the easiest things you can do is make or purchase a few native bee houses to mount throughout your property on fence posts, trees, outbuildings or other structures.

Mason bee houses often contain a variety of different sized hollow objects in which native bees of different varieties can create nest space. Each different species is drawn to a different sized object, making those houses with various sized tubular shaped objects — often twigs, hollow stems, drilled concrete blocks and other items — a valuable commodity for our native bees.

Planting native plants, of course, is a great way to help benefit pollinators and help rebuild their numbers. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all enjoy the nectar and pollen of native plants. Because these plants are indigenous to our area, they are better suited to the native bees and butterflies found here.

Specifically for bumblebees, notably the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee, a few native wildflowers are especially important. Wild bergamot, or wild bee balm, has been shown to be one of the most important nectar sources and pollen sources for rusty-patched bumblebees.

Another native wildflower, Culver’s Root, is equally important during its bloom season.

Of course, for monarchs, we simply must plant more milkweed in our yards and properties to create sufficient supplies of host plants for monarchs, which are currently at their second lowest population point ever on record.

By providing milkweed in our gardens and yards, we can help monarchs quickly rebuild their numbers during the summer breeding season.

Don’t forget the trees. Many species of trees are important host plants for pollinating butterflies. Weeping willow, oak, birches, basswood, black cherry, cottonwood and others are excellent host plants for numerous species of butterflies.

One of the most important things we can do to help pollinators is to encourage children and youngsters to learn to identify these creatures, as well as their importance in our food chain and life cycle.

Teaching young children to garden and grow and nurture plants specifically for pollinators is the key to their future — both their own, as well as the pollinators they are assisting.

Rob Zimmer is a nature and garden author, public speaker and radio show host on WHBY. Readers can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.