Honeybees are not the only insects that pollinate plants to aid in the production of fruits and vegetables.  There are numerous native insects that serve as pollinators.  Examples of native pollinators include butterflies, moths, bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees, sweat bees, wasps, and many more.

Honeybees and other native pollinators have declined in recent decades.  The reduced numbers have been attributed to habitat loss, diseases, and parasites.  

The average homeowner cannot do much to help prevent disease and parasite problems in pollinator populations.  Steps can be taken to improve backyard habitats for these beneficial insects though.  Habitat improvements can include planning the home landscape to incorporate food, water, and shelter needed by these helpful pollinators. 

The sources for this article include the Mississippi State University Extension Service publications “Gardening for Beneficial Bees in Mississippi” and “Help Pollinators with a few Simple Steps.” 

Food

With proper planning, home landscapes can include beneficial flowering plants for pollinators. Flowering plants provide food in the form of nectar and pollen. Nectar serves as the carbohydrate source providing needed energy.  Pollen serves as an important protein source.

When planning a flower garden to benefit pollinators it is important to consider flower color and plant placement. It is also important to include different types of plants to provide flowers throughout the spring and summer.

Honeybees in particular are attracted to white, blue, and violet flower colors.  Bees rarely feed on red flowers.  This results from the fact that they cannot see red very well. 

The most effective gardens for pollinators include flowering plants in large groups also called drifts.  Flowering plants of the same species can also be planted in small groups a few yards apart.  This allows pollinators to easily leave one group of flowers and go to the next.  It is also important to use insecticides with caution and install pollinator plants away from public roads  

Gardeners should include a mix of perennial and annual plants to sustain pollinators throughout the growing season.  Trees and shrubs provide early season flowers.  Examples can include fruit trees, red maples, yellow poplar, and American holly. 

Summer flowering plants to consider include coreopsis, zinnias, and butterfly weed.Flowering perennials will re-bloom if they are properly deadheaded and pruned.

During hot weather when sources of nectar and pollen are scarce, herbs including basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage can be the answer. In late fall native plants including goldenrod can be used to take the stage.

For a complete recommended listing of plants, trees, and shrubs for your pollinator garden, consult the Mississippi State University Extension Service publication #2976 “Gardening for Beneficial Bees in Mississippi.”

Water

Garden water features can provide the high-quality H2O that pollinators need.  The running water provided in a water feature is preferred over stagnant water that can encourage mosquito population growth.

Shelter

It is possible to make structures that can provide nesting shelter for native pollinators.  These pollinator motels can be made from a variety of common materials. General tips for construction include building them at least three feet from the ground, including an overhanging roof, and facing the structures to the south or southeast. Examples of materials to use include wooden blocks with holes drilled into them, bamboo straws, and mud-packed bricks.  Complete construction instructions can be found at www.pollinator.org.  

Gardening with pollinators in mind can provide them with much needed habitat. Sharing your beautiful flowering plants with these beneficial insects can be a swarm of fun as well!

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