(NEXSTAR) — Spring is nearly upon us (technically, it starts on March 20) which means you could soon be preparing your garden. Whether you’re growing your own produce or increasing your home’s curb appeal, you may want to take into consideration a main target audience for your garden: local pollinators.
Foods we enjoy each day — like fruits and vegetables, nuts, spice, and even chocolate and coffee — wouldn’t be possible without pollinators. They also help to support clean water through their work in plant communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture explains.
Overall, the work of pollinators has a value of $200 billion every year, according to the USDA. That doesn’t take into account the invaluable work they do in our backyard gardens.
When you think of pollinators, your mind may instantly go to bees: honey bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, whatever it may be. But pollinators also include birds, bats, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, and small mammals.
Honey bees aren’t necessarily at the top of the pollinator pyramid though.
“Compared to some other native bees, honey bees are less efficient or unable to pollinate some of our food crops,” Susan Carpenter, native plant garden curator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, tells Nexstar. Honey bees are, instead, “domestic animals, maintained and cared for by beekeepers” that can be “detrimental to the wide diversity of native bees” around you.
Flowers aren’t the be-all, end-all for pollinators either.
As Carpenter explains, there are some pollinators that use only one or a few flowers. Limited blooming time may not overlap with a pollinator’s active time, and flowers that “have been bred for features that are pretty or novel” can restrict pollen and nectar availability, making them “not useful to pollinators.” Some of the plants sold at your local nursery may not even be native plants, making it even harder — or impossible — for pollinators to do their job.
Unsurprisingly, treating the plants you have with insecticides may make them toxic to pollinators or reduce reproduction, Carpenter notes. You may also want to avoid treating your lawn, if possible, especially if you have some lawn plants to offer.
Many cities have launched “no mow May” initiatives intended to support pollinators. During these months, residents are encouraged to let their lawns grow without facing otherwise in-place city ordinances that may require frequent maintenance.
“No mow May has been a good way to generate conversation about sustainable lawn care and the financial and environmental costs of chemically treated, low diversity lawns,” Carpenter says. “If a lawn has no flowering plants or has flowering plants that don’t bloom in May, letting it grow for a month will not add floral resources. Creeping Charlie, dandelions and violets are three lawn plants that bloom early in the season, so pollinators that visit them can benefit.”
When it comes to helping pollinators elsewhere around your yard and in your garden, Carpenter recommends native plants. The USDA lists multiple native pollinator plants by region.
That includes species like the Michigan lily for states in the Northeast and northern Midwest, butterfly milkweed for areas around the Great Smoky Mountains, the Texas bluebonnet across southern Plains states, and the Rocky Mountain bee plant throughout most of the West.
“The same gardening practices that support pollinators will support other life and nature as well — songbirds, animals, and beneficial insects are a few examples of groups that benefit from native plant gardening,” Carpenter adds.