Answers by Tracy Droessler, Owner of Stockmen’s Greenhouse & Garden Center in Litchfield, MN and University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener for Meeker County
What are pollinators?
Pollinators are an important part of our ecosystem. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, approximately 80 percent of flowering plants rely on bees and other animals for pollination. These pollination “services” lead to 35 percent of our food production volume. Without pollinators, there would be many negative impacts on our food supply.
What is the most important pollinators?
Of all the pollinators, the most important are the honeybees and native bees, such as bumble bees. These bees do most of the pollinating and some types of produce such as almonds, apples and cherries, are almost entirely dependent on honeybees for pollination.
Unfortunately, bee populations have been in decline for decades with 1 out of 3 honeybee colonies lost annually. Beekeepers have done a wonderful job of replacing colonies which has kept the honeybees from being threatened with extinction however, they continue to face challenges to survival.
Why have bee populations declined?
Like many issues, there are various causes leading to their decline which include:
• Poor Nutrition – Bees rely on flowering plants for food. Due to urbanization and monoculture agricultural practices, food deserts have become common, leaving larger distances between food sources and a loss of habitat for the bees.
• Pests and Pathogens – Varroa mites, first found in the U.S. in 1987, are one of the most severe and common problems facing honeybees. The mites feed on the fat bodies of the bees diminishing their food reserves for the winter which can lead to colony collapse.
• Insecticides – Neonicotinoids, although not directly killing the bees, are known to cause bees to become disorientated and struggle to return to the hive with food. Many other common pesticides and some herbicides are toxic to bees.
• Climate Change – As weather patterns change, the timing of flower bloom will also change. This has some researchers wondering if the bees will adjust their behavior to align with these new bloom times. Early research indicates they will however, this is an evolving area of research.
How can the public help?
With all of this, you may be wondering how can you help? Well, there are two easy ways all of us can help the bees. The first is to limit our use of insecticides and herbicides. The fewer chemicals we use, the better it is for everyone, including the bees. There are many organic solutions to common gardening problems and a quick google search will usually yield multiple ideas to choose from. Although you may not have the instant results we have grown accustomed to with chemicals, it will often resolve the issue.
The second thing we can do to help the bees is to create pollinator friendly landscapes. To do this we want to plant a variety of perennials and annual flowers that will bloom throughout the growing season and provide a steady stream of food sources for the bees. Some great perennials for Minnesota bees include Lupine, False Indigo, Goatsbeard, Purple Coneflower, Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Sunflowers, Autumn Joy Sedum and Beebalm. For a more extensive list of pollinator friendly plants as well as a free tool to help you evaluate how pollinator friendly your yard is, visit the University of Minnesota Extension’s website at https://extension.umn.edu/lawns-and-landscapes/flowers-pollinators.
All of us can help the pollinators by making changes in our own backyard. So, make a trip to your favorite nursery, pick up some bee friendly perennials for your yard, and feed the bees for years to come. Happy planting!
To learn more
Stockmen’s Greenhouse and Garden Center is located at 60973 Highway 12 in Litchfield, MN. For more information on pollinator plants (and others), call 320-693-7787, or visit them on their website at www.stockmensgreenhouse.com or on Facebook. The garden center is open now until Father’s Day, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m.. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p..m. After that, Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.