We are already deep into June, but did you know that this month is Colorado Pollinator Month? And June 21-27 is National Pollinator Week. The City of Boulder celebrates Pollinator Appreciation Month in September, and countless other communities have their own festivals and events to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators.
What is pollination and why is it important? Simply put, it is the transfer of pollen grains from the male anther of a flower, to the female stigma of another flower of the same species for reproduction. It is loosely said that bees are responsible for every third bite of food we take, and it is well known that pollinators’ role in helping plants reproduce is critical to sustaining ecosystems around the world.
Here are a few easy things you can do in your garden to help support pollinators:
Think of your garden as a grocery store and plant a variety of flowering plants
Pollinators, and particularly bees, depend on the pollen (made of protein, fats/lipids, minerals, vitamins) and nectar (carbohydrates) in flowers for their nutrition. Pollen from different plants have different make-ups and so pollinators generally need different pollen sources to choose from to have a healthy diet. It’s also key to have a variety of bloom shapes and sizes, because pollinators come in different shapes and sizes. A big bumble bee may have a hard time getting pollen and nectar out of a dainty little flower.
Plant in groups or swaths.
A group of plants of the same species will better support pollinators because it’s like a one stop shop. They can move around the group of plants rather than having to go from one area of your garden to another to find enough pollen and nectar at any given time. For the most part, pollinators will visit the same species of plant on a single foraging run, hence pollination occurring. They will likely visit a different species on their next flight, but won’t generally visit a sunflower and a penstemon on the same outing.
Pay attention to when your plants bloom
Remember that pollinator grocery store you’re creating? Well, you want to make sure that it is fully stocked all season long. Having plants that bloom early in the season, all summer long and late into the fall is important. If there is a dearth of blooms in the heat of summer, pollinators will have to go elsewhere to find their sustenance. Here are a few examples of plants you can include to have something blooming all season long: Early season – fruit trees, bulbs, penstemons. Mid season – asters, blanket flowers, salvias. Late season – Rocky Mountain bee plant, sunflowers, goldenrod, rabbitbrush.
Avoid flowers with double blooms
Those gorgeous flowers with tons of petals are beautiful to our eye but do very little to support pollinators. The male reproductive part of the flowers has been bred out and replaced with petals. If you have prized roses, dahlias or peonies that are doubles, by all means keep them, just make sure you also include single varieties too.
Provide a water source
If you live near a body of water then your local pollinators may have what they need, but when it’s hot and dry you can also provide some supplemental water. Fill a shallow dish (flower pot saucers work great) with small rocks, then fill with water. Make sure some of the rocks are poking out so there is a landing pad and an escape route. Empty and replenish every few days to avoid a mosquito breeding ground.
Whether it’s June, September, or any other month of the year, let’s celebrate pollinators and help make our home, their home.
By Deryn Davidson. Deryn is an Extension Agent – Horticulture at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information contact CSU Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6386, e-mail [email protected] or visit boulder.extension.colostate.edu.