With a the warmth of spring spreading over the Eastern Shore, flowers, trees are beginning to bloom, attracting pollinators such as honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies. These creatures are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Pollinators are, however, experiencing population declines; this decline is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, agricultural sector, and to protect the health of the environment.
An extreme example is the Monarch butterfly, whose numbers sank to the lowest recorded population level in 2013-14- there is an imminent risk of failed migration. The losses of native bees, which also play a key role in pollination of crops, are also believed to be in decline. More than 50 native bees are in documented decline, with 9 critically imperiled, including the Franklin’s bumble bee. Bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.
In an effort to reverse pollinator losses and restore pollinator populations, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is creating Virginia State Managed Pollinator Protection Plan. This is part of a national effort by state and federal agencies to help reverse pollinator losses and restore pollinator populations. From the VDAC website, “VDACS’ proposed plan is a voluntary, proactive approach which focuses on enhanced communication and coordination between agricultural producers, landowners, pesticide applicators and beekeepers as a means to further protect pollinators. The plan is a set of recommendations and best practices for the protection of managed pollinators that allows both crop production and beekeeping to thrive. It is not intended to prohibit, eliminate or further restrict the application of pesticides, but rather reduce the risk of pesticide exposure to pollinators when pesticides are used nearby or within their normal foraging range. In all cases, pesticide applications must be made in accordance with the pesticide label and all applicable federal and state pesticide laws and regulations.”
Native Pollinators Need Native Plants and Natural Landscapes
Forest Service Recommendations
Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall.
Help pollinators find and use them by planting in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators. Do not forget that night-blooming flowers will support moths and bats.
Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “doubled” flowers.
Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the “perfect” blooms for us.
Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.
If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Use the product properly. Spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.
Include larval host plants in your landscape.
If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated. Accept that some host plants are less than ornamental if not outright weeds. A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include. Plant a butterfly garden!
Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees. Use a dripping hose, drip irrigation line, or place your bird bath on bare soil to create a damp area. Mix a small bit of table salt (sea salt is better!) or wood ashes into the mud.
Spare that limb!
By leaving dead trees, or at least an occasional dead limb, you provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure these are not a safety hazard for people walking below. You can also build a bee condo by drilling holes of varying diameter about 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of scrap lumber mounted to a post or under eaves.
You can add to nectar resources by providing a hummingbird feeder.
To make artificial nectar, use four parts water to one part table sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey, or fruit juices. Place something red on the feeder. Clean your feeder with hot soapy water at least twice a week to keep it free of mold.
Butterflies need resources other than nectar.
They are attracted to unsavory foodstuffs, such as moist animal droppings, urine and rotting fruits. Try putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water to see which butterflies come to investigate. Sea salt provides a broader range of micronutrients than regular table salt.