5 Simple Ways You Can Support Pollinators at Home

Many Americans have come to understand the importance of pollinators in our daily lives but may be unsure of how we can support them. Pollinators are looking for what most animals – including humans – need to not only survive but thrive. We spoke with Mark A. Miller, the Education and Exhibits Director for Pittsburgh Botanic Garden about tips the average citizen can take to give our pollinators a helping hand and, in turn, produce thriving beds of flowers, greens, and trees. 

Simple Ways to Support Pollinators

Creating a Water Source

Just like all other living things, water is a huge part of pollinators day to day. They need a shallow water source, something they can feed off of but not drown in. A birdbath or shallow container with rocks in it just above the water’s surface is ideal. Areas with a few puddles are another great option – as long as the standing water doesn’t draw mosquitoes.

If mosquitoes are a concern, get a mosquito dunk (actually a bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis). It kills mosquito larvae but is harmless to you, your pets, children, birds, or anything other than a baby mosquito.

Providing Food 

Pollinators also need a fulfilling food source. Flowering plants provide nectar, pollen and edible plant parts, such as leaves. To be as supportive as possible, try to include a diverse selection of plants. You want variation in plants that flower at different times, during different seasons, in a variety of shapes and colors.

For example, hummingbirds like to capture nectar from tubular red flowers while many bees prefer upright or spiky flowers of many colors and small pollinating flies prefer white flowers.

Featuring Specific Host Plants

Some insects, such as monarch butterflies, require very specific ‘host’ plants on which they lay their eggs and whose leaves later feed their caterpillar progeny. For monarchs, that host plant is milkweed (Asclepias).

Some plants have evolved to be so specific that only one pollinator will pollinate that plant. Yucca plants and yucca moths have coevolved to rely entirely on each other. The yucca moth is the only pollinator for the flowers, and the moth caterpillars feed only on yucca seeds.

Forming Shelter 

Pollinators need a place to call home, be it a hole in the ground, branches of a shrub, a nook in a tree or the undersides of leaves. Recent research has shown that bee houses suitable for sheltering only for bees may not be effective and may even spread diseases because of so many bees in close proximity. Instead, leaving your perennials up over the winter, some leaves on the ground, and even some brush around the corners of the yard can be good shelter for pollinators.

Avoiding Chemicals

Supporting pollinators also means avoiding chemicals and other substances that can injure or kill them. Try to garden organically and sustainably when possible, starting with your soil and ending with your fertilizers. Avoid using pesticides but, if a pesticide is absolutely the step you must take, apply the pesticide when pollinators are less active such as at night.

Looking for more information on pollinators and how you can help them thrive? Starting June 15 through September 15 you can stop by the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden for their David Rogers Big Bugs + Pollinators exhibit. The exhibit features oversized pollinator sculptures of up to 10 feet tall and 17 feet wide, each with small, accurate details throughout. Take a peek into the lives of these important members of our ecosystem and learn how to support their habitats in your own neighborhood.

Story by Mark A. Miller, Education and Exhibits Director, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden / Photography Courtesy of Pittsburgh Botanic GardenA footer photo with a white background, one TABLE Magazine and subscribe info and buttonSubscribe to TABLE Magazine‘s print edition.

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