You may have noticed how much pollen is in the air now that temperatures are warming and spring is in full bloom. If you suffer from spring allergies like I do, you’ve probably been dealing with a runny nose and eyes, fits of sneezes, and other unpleasant side effects of the burgeoning season. Indeed, pollen gets on a lot of people’s nerves. It can seem like an obstacle preventing us from enjoying spring to the fullest, but, ironically, spring needs pollen to thrive. More specifically, spring needs pollinators—animals such as bees and butterflies that carry pollen from one plant to another and aid in plant reproduction—to sustain all of its famous colorful blooms. Pollinators support the building blocks of all ecosystems, and they are essential to environmental health. Humans and animals alike need them to survive—the least us human gardeners can do is create pollinator-friendly gardens. So take an allergy pill, power through your sniffles, and consider these tips for attracting pollinators to your yard:
In the wild, pollinators seek shelter away from potential threats: predators, severe weather, and, most insidious of all, human beings. Unfortunately, human development has destroyed many of the natural shelters that pollinators depend on. As a gardener, you can help remedy this by creating shelters in your garden. For instance, let a patch of your grass grow wild so bees can build nests there. Or set out an old log at the edge of your yard for pollinators to burrow in. You can also build a nesting box out of wood for bees and bats on the move. And if you see a pollinator habitat in your yard—a bee hive or butterfly nest—it’s best to leave it be.
Pollinators are constantly searching for food. However, flowers and water can be in short supply, especially in urban settings. Encourage pollinators by providing easy access to food in your yard. Humming bird and butterfly feeders are both cheap, easy to build, and great opportunities to observe pollinators up close!
Plant Lots of Flowers
This one is easy—pollinators love flowers just as much as gardeners do. For year-long feeding, chose pollen and nectar rich annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Aster, butterfly bush, bee balm, sunflowers, alyssum, and salvia are all great options. You can also supplement your pollinator population by planting dill, fennel, and milk weed, all of which help support butterfly larvae.
Limit Pesticide Usage
Unsurprisingly, most pesticides are toxic to bees, birds, and butterflies. They may provide a quick fix for insect infestations, but their negative side effects often outweigh their usefulness. Instead of using pesticides, consider natural and preventative pest control measures, like keeping your yard free of rotting plant debris and supporting populations of pest-killing insects.
Human development causes massive amounts of environmental damage all over the world. Pollinators are in danger because we have too often invaded their habitats and left them without viable sources of food and shelter. Gardeners and homeowners need to do their part to cohabit with pollinators and support local ecosystems. That means thinking small and “green” when it comes to development—opt for native plants over exotic species, and chose natural remedies for molds and pests rather than chemical cures. You can also support pollinators in your area by supporting local conservationists and environmental action groups. Whatever you do, remember that your actions have a larger impact than you might realize, and that the survival of human beings depends on the survival of pollinators.