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Spread the love for pollinators

 

Did you enjoy an apple or melon for breakfast, turn to a delicious cup of coffee to help you get your day started, or treat yourself to some chocolate for dessert? Thank a pollinator. While they may be among the smaller animals on our planet, pollinators such as bees, butterflies, birds, moths and bats are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat – and now more than ever, they need our help. 

Pollination occurs when tiny grains of pollen are transferred from a male plant to a female plant of the same species, resulting in the production of seeds, fruit and young plants. While wind and water and other natural forces can also carry pollen and help plants create offspring – as well as trigger seasonal allergies! – it is estimated that a whopping three-fourths of the flowering plants around the world are pollinated by insects and animals. This accounts for about 1,200 food crops and 180,000 types of plants that produce oxygen, clean the air, and maintain ecosystems and habitats for numerous other animals. One bee alone can pollinate about 5,000 flowers in one day; no wonder we use the phrase “busy as a bee” to describe someone who is hard at work!

Sadly, while pollinators play a crucial role in sustaining life on Earth, they themselves are struggling to survive and thrive. In recent years scientists have noted a sharp decline in the number of pollinators worldwide for a variety of reasons including habitat loss, the proliferation of non-native species, pesticide use, light pollution, parasites and disease. With Pollinator Week – an annual international celebration of the small but mighty creatures and their important contributions to our ecosystem – just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to think about ways each of us can make a difference. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Plant a diverse assortment of flowering plants that will provide food for pollinators from early spring through late fall. This can include serviceberry, coneflower, phlox, aster and goldenrod. Experts advise planting seeds in late fall or early winter, while small plants can go in the ground in spring; be sure to check local gardening forecasts to make sure you don’t plant your crop too early. Local experts like Naperville Community Gardeners or staff at The Growing Place in Naperville can help you select the plants that will work best for the environment and space available on your property.    
  • Don’t just automatically reach for the pesticides to rid your yard or garden of unwanted growth. Instead, consider practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines observation and monitoring, strategic planting and targeted pesticide application – if needed – to control insects and other pests while minimizing environmental impact.
  • Cultivate a butterfly garden with native milkweeds and nectar plants to attract Monarchs. These gardens, even if they are just planted in a pot or two on a porch, offer the beautiful orange and black butterflies food and breeding grounds, as well as a place to rest and rejuvenate on their migration north in spring and south in fall. During their migration, Monarchs use thermals and air currents to fly an average of 22 miles per day for up to 3,000 miles! The Naperville Park District has created several Monarch Waystations, and the aptly named Monarch Landing in Naperville has been doing its part for years by maintaining a beautiful Monarch garden stocked with 100 prairie plants on the retirement community’s picturesque 60-acre campus. 
  • Provide nesting habitats for pollinators, such as native grasses, a bee box, leaf material or dead tree trunks. A water source, such as a birdbath or shallow bowl of water, is also beneficial. 

Several local organizations have proclaimed 2021 to be the Year of the Butterfly to create a buzz around supporting Monarchs and other pollinators, so let’s all try to do our part in the coming months. While saving our pollinators may seem like a daunting task, many small things – just like the butterflies, bees, birds and bats and the tiny but incredibly important pollen grains they carry.- truly can add up to something great.