Planting with Purpose
Growing a few specific plants in your garden can help save pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Bees and other pollinators play a crucial role in our daily diet, supplying about one-third of our country’s food supply. Some of our favorite foods like almonds, watermelon, cucumbers and a long list of other fruits and vegetables all require pollination, but are at serious risk due to dramatic losses in bee populations. While the decreases in colonies have been associated with pesticides, poor nutrition, diseases and pests, there are some simple steps we can take to help keep our planet’s pollinators alive.
“I believe that if everybody planted five organic plants around their home, we could save all pollinators,” says Karen Uhlmeyer, apprentice beekeeper at the University of Florida’s Master Beekeeper Program, and master gardener at the South Seminole Farm & Nursery. Creating an organic garden filled with various flowering plants will attract pollinators and provide them with the nutrition they need to flourish.
Different pollinators are attracted to different types of plants. “Bees prefer blue or yellow flowers with sweet fragrances, moths like to visit white flowers with strong scents, and butterflies tend to seek out brightly colored flowers with large flower heads,” Uhlmeyer says. Plants like milkweed, coreopsis (Florida’s state wildflower), sunflowers, African blue basil, and blanket flowers are all fantastic garden plants that will attract a variety of pollinators.
Keri Byrum, assistant director at Harry P. Leu Gardens, says creating the perfect garden for pollinators has a lot to do with timing. “At our butterfly garden in Leu Gardens, having a variety of plants is very important,” Byrum says. “As one plant goes out of bloom another can fill in to keep providing food for our pollinators.” Having at least one plant blooming during each season in your garden allows pollinators to stay in a familiar area without having to travel in search of food. A good example of a year-round pollinating garden is having a camellia, which blooms in winter, a red salvia for spring, big red pentas for summer, and a Mexican sunflower for fall.
Most bee-friendly plants can be an affordable addition to your garden. While prices are usually correlated with the size of the plant, “a majority of flowers used for pollinators range from $3.50 to $5,” Uhlmeyer says. Large retail stores are working toward eliminating harmful pesticides, but shopping at a local nursery with organic plants is always a safe option.
Because of bees’ importance to our nation’s economy, President Obama has asked for an “all hands on deck” approach to help improve pollinator health. The White House recently released its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, requesting citizen engagement so that pollinator populations can be restored.
“Farmers and beekeepers will do what they can for pollinators, but it’s homeowners and citizens like you and me that can really reverse this population decrease,” Uhlmeyer says. “We need bees to save our food chain, and they need us to survive.” +