|As winter thaws and the spring gardening season begins, the National Pollinator Garden Network has an important message for those about to plant vegetables, fruiting shrubs and trees, and other types of edibles: Pollinators are critical to the success of your harvest.
From the zucchini patch to the apple orchard, honeybees, butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinators visit flowers in the search for food. While doing so they also transfer pollen from flower to flower and plant to plant. Without this process, chances of setting fruit are low to nil for many species in today’s edibles garden.
Pollinators are the workhorses of not just home gardens and landscapes, but also the millions of acres of farms in the U.S. They are responsible for one in every three bites of food Americans eat each day. For those who grow their own food, that number could be even larger during the growing season. The key to a bountiful harvest is encouraging the many species of pollinators to visit the garden, and to visit often.
Attracting Pollinators to the Edibles Garden
Attracting pollinators to the edibles garden requires deliberate actions on the part of the gardener. Here are a few suggestions for increasing the chances they’ll make a stop—and keep visiting throughout the season:
1. Plant flowers near edibles. With a few exceptions, vegetable plants don’t have the bright and showy flowers that pull in passing pollinators. Native flowering perennials and shrubs will be familiar and attractive to local pollinators. Annual flowers such as marigolds, zinnias and sunflowers are also pollinator favorites. Check with your local garden center for suggestions for the best pollinator-attracting plants for your area.
2. Plant in groups. Choose one type of flower and plant them in a group covering 10 sq. ft. or more, increasing the chances pollinators will see them and drop in for a visit.
3. Find the best location. Make the flower plantings suitable for pollinators by situating them in a sunny place with minimal disturbance from wind and foot traffic.
4. Provide shelter. Encourage pollinators to live nearby so they visit often. Beehives are just one option. Many pollinator species create tunnels and nests underground or in trees. Leave a patch of bare ground for pollinators to dig nests, and provide a wood block drilled with small holes for those tunneling insects.