You Can Create a Pollinator Habitat in Your Yard
Updated: May 29
"In a world...without bees.."
Sounds like the beginning of a horror film trailer, right? Read in a deep, gravelly voice that sounds like Batman. To many of us, that is indeed the terrifying reality of the loss of our bee pollinators. But to others, bees are a nuisance, something to get rid of at all costs.
In the year 2020, we are accustomed to a certain amount of convenience when it comes to food. We don't have to base our diets on the turning of the seasons. We can simply drive to the grocery store and pick from a wide array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, and create pretty much any meal we are craving. It's hard to imagine a future without apples, mango, nectarines, peaches, pears, almonds, cashews, cherries, watermelon, cranberries, pumpkin, kiwi, squash, blueberries, raspberries, apricots, avocado, or cucumber (just to name a few), but that would be exactly our reality if we let honey bees continue to die out.
The decline of pollinator populations has become a widespread global crisis in the last decade or so. The winter of 2006 was the first time in recorded history when, seemingly out of nowhere, the percentage of thriving bee colonies suddenly dropped to an unprecedented low. Since then, bee populations continue to decrease at an average rate of 29% each year. Last year was the worst on record as 2018-2019 recorded a 38% of the bee population perishing.
As scientists continue to scramble for answers, what we do know is that there is no singular solution. There are many reasons bees are dying, but the most significant contributor is humanity. Climate change, pesticide use, habitat loss, and air pollution all have a significant impact. These problems are much too large, too complex for any one person to take on. The good news is, at the local level, there are small steps each of us can take to try and reverse the damage done. Consider the following ways you can make your living spaces more habitable for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. No matter your gardening experience or the size of your yard, there is an option for you!
POCKETS OF HABITAT/FLOWERING TREES AND SHRUBS
If you are new to gardening, this is a great option to start with. Designate an area in your garden bed for pollinator plants. If necessary, start them in pots and create a habitat on your patio. Divide plants when they outgrow their space and watch your habitat grow over time! To maintain, focus on weeding and avoid the use of pesticides and fungicides as much as possible. Larger plants such as trees and shrubs will need to be pruned each year.
A flowering bee lawn enables plants that are typically dubbed as "weeds" to thrive along with turfgrass. The diversity in plant life benefits bees and other pollinators and insects. You can mow and water a flowering lawn just like you would a typical lawn, and it stands up to heavy foot traffic, making this a great option if you want wide pollinator benefits but want to continue to use your lawn frequently. Avoid the use of pesticides and fungicides to the extent possible.
Offering the most benefits for pollinators, an urban meadow has the wildest appearance. This diverse collection of native plants is allowed to grow freely throughout the growing season. Depending on which plants are chosen, urban meadows can reach heights of 3 ft to 10 ft tall! Many businesses are opting for urban meadows to fill out their green spaces because they typically do well in larger areas and require little maintenance throughout the year.
Ready to start planning your own pollinator-friendly space? Here's where to start: GET YOUR SOIL TESTED You will ultimately save time and money if you start out knowing which plants will grow best in your yard. The University of Tennessee Department of Agriculture offers a mail-in test for $15. NATIVE PLANTS ARE BEST The Chattanooga Area Pollinator Partnership (CHAPP) has provided a list of plants native to the Chattanooga area. Additionally, Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center has a native plant sale every spring and fall. Due to the coronavirus this year, they are offering plant pick up instead!
If you don't live in Chattanooga, you can type in your zip code at Native Plant Finder for a detailed list of native plants in your area. Keep in mind, not all pollinator-friendly plants are created equal. Many nurseries have plants and seeds treated with systemic insecticides or neonicotinoids which are highly toxic to bees, butterflies, and pollinators. If you can't get a clear answer from your nursery about this, consider frequenting one of the native plant nurseries near you. Native plant nurseries avoid the use of these chemicals and (ahem) only sell native plants, so no research required! If you don't have one of these nurseries within driving distance, many do online seed sales. ENGAGE YOUR NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS Often a lawn containing "weeds" and significant overgrowth can be interpreted as signs of neglect. Be sure to get the approval of your landlord, neighbors, HOA, or anyone else who may be impacted by the appearance of your lawn. Provide educational resources (like this article??) to help get people on board. You may even start a new movement in your community! Once you have permission to grow your bee lawn, put out a yard sign like this one or this one to let the public know that your family is doing its part to support our pollinators.
The end of bees is terrifying, but it doesn't have to be a reality. Bees already suffer from destructive enemies like larvae-eating mites, bacteria, and viruses. Let's do all we can to help our pollinator friends!
With the right resources, a pollinator-friendly yard is within your reach. Happy Planting!
"Create your own DIY pollinator garden" from Davisenterprise.com
"An Organic Lawn" from Pesticide Action Network UK
"Field of Dreams Wildflowering" from The Horticult
https://chapollinator.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Pollinator-Chart-CHAPP.pdf https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/ https://tnvalleywildones.org/native-plants/ https://chapollinator.org/the-basics/resources/ References https://tnvalleywildones.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Plant-Growing-Requirements.pdf https://tnvalleywildones.org/save-our-pollinators/ https://www.beelab.umn.edu/sites/beelab.umn.edu/files/floweringbeelawntoolkit_ramer.etal_.-_08.13.2019.pdf https://www.beelab.umn.edu/learn-more/beelawn https://www.beelab.umn.edu/sites/beelab.umn.edu/files/bee_lawn_help_save_the_bees_enrtf.pdf https://bwsr.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/2019-08/Questions%20to%20Ask%20your%20nursery%20before%20buying-PFA.pdf https://www.roomandboard.com/blog/2015/07/planted-urban-meadow/ https://www.greensourcedfw.org/articles/north-texas-wild-create-pocket-prairie
Edited by Laura Marsh