- Author: Kathleen Craig
Recently I was able to attend a Zoom meeting by Western Hummingbird Partnership with experts from the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Oregon, Wild Wings Backyard, and the Xerces Society. I learned how gardeners can improve conditions for pollinators by using good planting practices, incorporating native plants in gardens, avoiding pesticides, and being mindful of habitat.
As a reminder, pollinators include hummingbirds, bees, flies, and wasps, and butterflies.
There has been an overall decline in pollinator populations due to three major factors: climate change, inadequate nutrition, and pesticide use. As gardeners, we can contribute to improving the conditions for pollinators in a real and practical way by educating ourselves and our communities on how to improve conditions for the pollinators that we rely on to grow the majority of our food and plant crops.
An example of how dire some of the numbers are: In California in 2019, there were fewer than 30,000 butterflies in California. Due to habitat loss, insecticide, ad climate change, in 2020 there were fewer than 2,000 butterflies! Many species are in danger of extinction and are being evaluated for the endangered species list.
Improving general gardening practices could improve conditions for pollinators by being mindful of the following principles:
Native plants are beneficial because they attract a diversity of wildlife, and native insects are adapted to the nourishment that native plants provide. Hummingbirds benefit from red tubular flowers due to the way they extract the nectar with their long beaks. Competing insect pollinators don't have the same reach, and they can't see the red color, as well as hummingbirds, do. If you are able to have a variety of plants that flower throughout the year, you will support Anna's hummingbird which does not migrate. Examples of a few native plants that attract hummingbirds:
- Western Columbine
- California Fuchsia
It is recommended by pollinator experts that beneficial flowering plants be grouped together to make a larger target for the birds and insects.
In addition to plants that attract Hummingbirds, clean water is also important because gathering the nectar makes them sticky and hummingbirds need to bathe frequently.
There are 44 species of Milkweed; 15 in California. They protect butterfly larva and are also beneficial to native bees, flies, wasps, and hummingbirds. Communities can schedule mowing roadsides after butterflies have hatched. Native bees, of which there are 1500-1700 species in California, tend to be solitary and benefit from supportive habitat such as bee houses, bare ground for burrowing for nesting.
One interesting fact that I never considered is that avoiding cultivars is also protective to pollinators because some cultivars are created to be sterile and do not produce pollen. It is important also to buy plants that are not treated with pesticides and to follow Integrated Pest Management best practices in your own garden so that your plants are not toxic to pollinators.
There is an abundance of information about pollinators online. We should all be considering how we can support pollinators by using good planting and pest management practices in our own gardens and by educating the public in best practices to support dwindling pollinator populations.