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Calling all pollinators

Creating habitats for bees and butterflies helps your garden and the environment.

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Pollination is key part of our ecosystem. Nova Scotia alone is home to 150-some bee species, plus butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats. But pollution, habitat loss, climate change, and pesticide use threaten pollinators here and around the world. Recent die offs in bat populations demonstrate the harm that’s occurring.

Over the past five years, white-nose syndrome has killed about 98 per cent of bats from winter hibernation sites on mainland Nova Scotia, killing about seven million bats across eastern North America. The David Suzuki Foundation notes on its website that our lives depend upon the successful regeneration of plants. “The majority of plant regeneration, in turn, depends upon pollinators, primarily bees.” If sufficient habitat is not maintained and restored to support native bee populations, Canada could face a biodiversity crisis.” Tiny creatures, like bees, make a big difference.

Here are five ways you can help the pollinators in your yard this year:

Plant native flowers, shrubs, and trees. In addition to helping the pollinator population, native plants are adapted to thrive in our growing climate and require less care. Plus, research suggests that native plants attract native bees more than exotic varieties. Some of the native species flowers that bees and other pollinators prefer are bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), crocus, primrose (Primula vulgaris), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), lavender (Lavandula), sunflower (Helianthus annus), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), aster (Asteraceae), goldenrod (Solidago), and sedum.

Shrubs that feed bees, provide shelter, and nesting sites are pussy willow (Salix caprea), mahonia, broom (Genisteae), rhododendron, cotoneaster, hollies (Ilex), and rugosa roses. Bee-friendly trees include hawthorns (Crataegus), mountain ash (Sorbus), and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), plus apple and pear trees.

Plant several colours and shapes of flowers in clumps. Diverse flower shapes allow your garden to please numerous pollinators of different shapes, sizes, and tongue lengths. Try flat flowers cosmos and sunflower (Helianthus annus), round flowers like coneflower (Rudbeckia) and asters, bell-shaped flowers like bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) and foxglove, and tube-shaped flowers like lilac (Syringa) and salvia.

Planting in clumps is visually pleasing to the human eye, and convenient for pollinators. Bees tend to harvest one type of nectar at a time, so large clumps save flying time and energy. They’re also easier for bees to find. And, just like us, bees prefer a variety of colours, including blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Share your fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Many fruits and vegetables attract pollinators. In return for the nectar you offer them, pollinators will increase your crop yield. Most vegetables attract bees, but especially onions, carrots, turnip, squash, peas, melons, tomatoes, and peppers. Fruits include apples, cherries, and all berries.

Grow herbs in pots. Herbs make great gifts if you don’t use them yourself, plus they are pleasant to run your hands through for the lovely fragrances they release. Bees prefer borage (Borago officinalis), flowering chives (Allium schoenoprasum), lavender (Lavandula), comfrey (Symphytum), sage (Salvia officinalis), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and bee balm (Monarda fistulosa).

Create bee-preferred locations. Bees have needs other than nectar. While we often imagine them living in hives, many live in the ground, hollow plant stems, shrubs, and old logs. Avoid cutting back flower stems in the fall as bees may be hibernating inside. Leave some bare, unmulched ground in your garden where bees can burrow and raise their young.

Creating a wet, muddy area in your yard will attract bees and butterflies. Bees don’t travel a long distance to search for nectar so keep your bee habitat within 250 metres of flower beds. Avoid chemicals. Habitat loss and insecticides are the two main threats to bees and butterflies. A garden without the use of chemicals will become more naturally balanced and attract birds and beneficial insects that will help to keep pests to a minimum.

If buying plants, be sure to check that they have not been grown or sprayed with chemicals. Pollinators are so small that it takes very little to harm them. We are linked to every natural thing. Something as small and inconspicuous as a bee can make a huge difference in your life. And remember, you can make a huge difference in its life, too.

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