Widening the web of pollinator-friendly spaces

If you have read some of my previous writings, it is apparent that I am concerned about the steep decline of pollinator species and other beneficial insects. It seems like a perfect application for the phrase ”think globally, act locally.” There are many problems in the world today, but the pollinator crisis is actually (relatively) easy to solve.

Tiny insects don’t need the space of, say, elks. And they are much cuter! And, one can safely argue that insects and animals that perform pollination services are actually more important than the larger photogenic species like elks and bears. Because, let’s face it — without pollinators, creatures like elks, bears and humans won’t stand a chance if the plants we all eat everyday stop reproducing (psst — insects make plant sex happen!).

Although only a few of us can provide adequate habitat for a herd of elk, almost all of us can provide either habitat, forage or both for multiple species of these ever-so-crucial insects. A quarter-acre lot is plenty of space! Have a vegetable garden, or fruit trees or a neighbor who does? Grow plants the pollinators love and food plants will be much more productive. 

Consider: Will a bee or a butterfly be able to live out its short life cycle in your garden? 

First, just like any creature, these insects require something to eat, every day, almost all year long. Which means host plants for eating and flowers that bloom with accessible, quality pollen and nectar. Did you know native plants — trees, shrubs and wildflowers — provide the best sustenance for our native pollinators? There are about 500 species of native bees in Oregon alone!

Just as important is a place to nest and overwinter — crevices, stalks, leaves, stems and soil to keep the eggs, pupae and adults safe in all stages of the life cycle. I hope it goes without saying that a pesticide-free environment is a requirement. Herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides — all impair the workings of these tiny bodies in both the short and long term, and also harm future generations. 

Here’s a shout out to all the gardeners growing beautiful gardens and managing their landscapes with the needs of pollinators in mind. Bee City USA Ashland has approved 33 pollinator gardens throughout the city, on both private and public land, all marked with a beautiful sunflower sign! (Stay tuned for details on Bee City USA’s second annual Pollinator Garden Tour!)

The other three Bee City USA’s in the Valley — Talent, Phoenix and Gold Hill — also have approved pollinator gardens. In fact, Talent just announced a city-wide Pollinator Garden Challenge to encourage gardeners to have their garden designated by June 23, the end of National Pollinator Week.

Even if you choose not to have your garden designated as an official Bee City USA pollinator garden, why not "bee" on the first-ever Rogue Buzzway map? A project of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley in partnership with the GIS Department at SOU, the Buzzway map will begin to show us where pollinator habitats — large and small — are located in the Valley, so we can begin to address spaces where they aren’t, to make sure bees and other pollinators have enough food — so we do, too.

Ecologists have long told us that there is a strong relationship between the size of an area and the number of species found there. The larger the area, the more diverse the habitat, numerous the species, and the more likely a large population of any given species can be supported. If we each transformed part (or all!) of our yards into gardens rich in native plants with plenty of habitat, small gardens would be part of a larger landscape supporting our flying friends.

Consider: What would your neighborhood look like if there was a pollinator garden on every lot?

Want to bee on the Buzzway map, or know a neighbor — or two — who would? Visit PollinatorProjectRogueValley.org to learn more and fill out the form.

Waiting for spring

Ashland has a new pollinator garden! A few months ago, the Bee City USA Ashland Team and Ashland Parks and Rec staff had fun working together to replant the corner at The Grove with a variety of pollinator friendly plants. Supposedly deer resistant as well, we are anxiously watching to determine how well these plants live up to that adjective. Thank you, Ashland Parks Foundation, for providing a grant to help make the project happen!

Come spring, the little corner on East Main will be providing beauty and inspiration to passersby, while also providing plenty of what our pollinators need — pollen, nectar, and a pesticide-free space to live and overwinter.

— Kristina Lefever is a member of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, Bee City USA Ashland, and the Jackson County Master Gardener Association. The Pollinator Connection appears quarterly.

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