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Plant for Pollinators

April 20, 2021

Spring is filled with warm sunlight, blooming flowers and (like it or not) a lot of pollen. This sneeze-inducing powder isn’t just a springtime nuisance though. It’s a crucial piece of our ecosystem too. 
Pollen is made up of microscopic grains containing genetic material from a plant. It is a vital player in the pollination process. In fact, without it, most plants cannot make seeds and fruits. Pollen cannot make this journey on its own, it must be aided by other natural processes including wind, water and the movement of animals. Some plants have even evolved by producing bright colors, fragrant flowers and sweet nectar to attract particular animals called pollinators. These creatures carry pollen to and from each flower they visit, pollinating them in the process. 
Ohio’s pollinators range from hummingbirds to more than 400 species of insects including beetles, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps and (perhaps most importantly) honey bees. These pollinators are a key component of the native ecosystem as well as agriculture. According to a Cornell study published in May 2012, it is estimated that insect pollinators contribute billions of dollars annually to United States agriculture by pollinating nearly 60 crops such as almonds, apples, berries and squash.
Despite their importance, animal pollinators currently face a number of threats - from pesticides and pests to invasive plants and loss of habitats. Among these declining species are Monarch butterflies. Their caterpillars rely solely on milkweed and due to land development and the widespread use of pesticides, milkweed is disappearing. Scientists and government agencies are calling on gardeners and landowners to assist in conserving Ohio’s precious pollinators.
Transform your lawn, garden or even flower box into a critical habitat that provides pollinators with food, water and shelter. Grow a variety of flowering plants that differ in color, fragrance and the time of year they bloom. Different species of pollinators are active in Ohio at different times of the year and some species, such as honey bees, forage from early spring through late fall.
Allow commonly removed plants to grow such as dandelions and goldenrod, which are important sources of nectar for many pollinators. In addition to food, another key component of pollinators' habitats are locations for nesting and overwintering. Brush piles, clumping grasses, unmowed grass along fence lines, and dead-standing trees are excellent places for bees and butterflies to build nests.
Consider incorporating plants that provide food and habitat for caterpillars such as milkweed, New England aster, parsley and dill. Muddy puddles or shallow birdbaths with a few twigs inside allow pollinators to access water in the heat of summer.
Minimize or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden (and carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions when they must be used) to help to maintain a safe environment for pollinators and their habitats alike.