Most gardeners know that plants need fertile soil, sunshine, water, and air to thrive. A growing number of gardeners also appreciate that most plants need pollinators. These insects and animals work tirelessly transferring pollen between plants to produce the seeds of the next generation. Many people think of pollinating critters as the ‘birds and the bees’ but butterflies, bats and ants are also examples of these hard working creatures.
Pollinators evolved over the course of millions of years with most plants to exhibit the symbiotic relationship we see today. However, the balance in this system has been significantly disrupted from dwindling habitat, disease pressure, and increased pesticide use. Gardeners can help pollinators overcome these challenges by cultivating pollinator gardens, which focus on plants that serve as food and shelter for insects and other animals that do the work of pollination. Many resources are available to guide plant selection and design. A few basic rules are:
1. Choose native plants whenever possible because these selections generally provide a food source to the greatest number of pollinators and are known to provide food for insect’s larval stages.
2. Cultivate plants with that will provide a bloom succession to supply food throughout the year for a spectrum of pollinators.
3. Arrange plants in clusters, not single or spotty flowers, to provide a visual cue that helps pollinators find their food.
Penn State College of Agricultural Science Outreach Office offers a pollinator garden certification that verifies a gardener’s commitment to conserving pollinator habitat. The application requires information including plant selections that serve as sources of food and shelter, providing a source of water and reducing or eliminating pesticide. A $10 application fee is a donation that helps support Penn State Master Gardeners continuing education of the public about the importance of providing habitat for pollinators
Gardeners can find inspiration for creating and sustaining their own pollinator garden by visiting the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners of Philadelphia amazing pollinator garden on the grounds of the Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park.
Helpful links and resources.
US Fish and Wildlife: http://www.fws.gov/pollinators/