Have you noticed that there are fewer dead bugs on your windshield after driving on a warm night? Overall, there has been a drop in the number of insects in the past few decades.
At first glance, this might be cause for celebration – picnics with no ants!
But many of the missing insects are pollinators. Eating would be very boring without insect pollinators who help produce such foods as apples, avocados, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, pears, strawberries, sugar, tea and much more.
You might think that there isn’t much you can do to help pollinators. However, there are many little things homeowners and apartment-dwellers can do. Even if you have a space the size of a bathmat or can only plant in containers, you can create a pollinator pocket. Learn how at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/downloads/56964.pdf. Here’s all you need:
• A foraging area with host plants
• Nesting areas and nesting material
• Little or no pesticides
It doesn’t matter if your space is in the sun or shade, or if it’s wet or dry, there are pollinator plants for every location.
Many popular flowers and herbs are a great food source for pollinators. These include alyssum, basil, mint, oregano, poppies, verbena and zinnias.
Some, such as cleome, dill, parsley, snapdragons and sunflowers, are host plants for certain pollinators. If you are new to native perennials, try some showy ones, such as butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) or black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), that are both nectar-producing for adult insects and a host for caterpillars.
About 70% of native bees nest in the ground, so think about leaving a small area of ground bare in an out-of-the-way spot in your yard. Many butterflies in our area overwinter in leaf litter, so consider leaving an unraked spot for them. Other pollinators shelter in dead plants over winter, so wait until late spring to clean up, at least in some areas of your yard.
Pollinators appreciate a birdbath or other source of shallow water. Placing flat stones in a deeper bath gives them a place to land. As with any water source, be sure to change it several times a week in mosquito season.
Lastly, rethink the use of pesticides. Select less harmful biological, cultural or mechanical methods that control just the targeted pest.
It’s easy to promote the pollinators!
Sue Styer is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.