Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Five Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Save Pollinators

Bombus impatiens - Common Eastern Bumble Bee

I'm not kidding, just five things. That's all it takes for you to help pollinators make a comeback.

ex-aster and bumbles last year 

Our native bee populations need our help. Especially the bumblebees. They are disappearing faster than scientists had thought and they aren't sure exactly why.  

At least four species of wild American bumblebees are edging toward extinction: the Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini) and Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) in the Western US, and the rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) and yellow-banded bumblebee (Bombus terricola) in the Eastern US. (source: Xerces Society)

What I know is that we need our bumbles.  They are far more efficient at pollinating our crops than honeybees.  These garden workhorses pollinate tomatoes, blueberries, cucumbers, peppers, vegetables, seed crops, strawberries,  cane berries, melons, and squash.  Whew that's a lot of my favorite foods!

I count on them to pollinate my wildflowers, so, I'm doing all I can to help them.  But, there aren't nearly as many in my garden as there have been in past summers. That makes my commitment to help  them even stronger....and not just because it's National Pollinator Week!  

Here's what you can do~

Why not join the Bring Back The Pollinators campaign!
First, why not join the Bring Back The Pollinators campaign over at the Xerces Society.

Echinaceas are attractive to many pollinators even the incidental ones like skippers
I've been bombarding you with gently sharing these suggestions for some time, but, the Xerces Society campaign reads beautifully and you can get a real cool plaque for your garden.

Here are their 4 simple principles (in italics) followed by my suggestions on how to implement them!

1.  Grow a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers:
  • Plant large swathes of nectar and pollen producing plants.  Plant at least three of each plant~bees seem to work one flower type at a time, so give them a lot!
  • Plant host plants~don't stop at nectar and pollen plants.  
  • Plan for bloom from late spring to early winter.  Think early spring ephemerals to late winter witch hazels!
Creating, protecting and restoring habitat is a very important way to conserve the populations of bees that remain.
2.  provide nesting sites for a variety of visitors:
  • leave some bare ground for ground nesting bees (ix-nay on the plastic landscape cloth they can't tunnel through it),
  • leave decaying logs in the garden; they're perfect for beetles and bees who like to use old beetle tunnels,
  • offer special bee houses, and
  • don't forget to provide water.  Pam/Digging has marvelous shots of bees visiting her stock tank pond on the hottest days.
beetles and hover flies 

3.  Avoid pesticides!
  • I suggest you never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides, but, you knew that already!
Green Metallic Bee's need bare ground to nest 

4. Spread the word 
  • Join the Bring Back The Pollinators campaign and purchase a sign for your garden.
  • Talk to your friends and neighbors about the importance of pollinator habitats.
  • Blog about pollinators~Show us photos! Show off your crops and flowers! Educate us about your habitat and your  part of this great big beautiful pollinated world!

My friends remember the Clay and Limestone motto: It's always a good time to think about and plan for pollinators.

 Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone." She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. The declining bee population is very worrying. Thank you for this post and for highlighting the hugely important message about wildlife-friendly gardening.

    Such beautiful photos as always.

  2. I am going right now to sign up!!!!

  3. Excellent post! I was photographing bees yesterday. I have not seen as many this year as in the past either...I was hoping it just wasn't time for them. I do plant pollen friendly plants for the pollinators my husband actually calls some of my plants like, Mexican Bush Sage, bee magnets...

  4. GREAT post Gail!! That macro photo of the pollen on the bumble bee's fur is simply amazing.
    Oh and I love your brilliant solution to recent taxonomic upheaval - the plant formerly known as Aster will now be known as Ex-Aster. I'm going to steal that idea :)

  5. we all love the pollinators! reminding us to think of what is best for them is necessary. i am going to check out the xerces society pronto. thanks for the info. i really need to see your garden one day. perhaps when i get back from vacay i will get with you if you'd allow me it would be a real treat for me.

  6. Your photos of these pollinators are out of this world!! I am amazed at how many different pollinators are buzzing around my garden when I am out there.

  7. Great suggestions Gail..thank you for the concrete info on how to be a pollinator helper.

  8. Great info and campaign! You go, Gail!

  9. Such greta advice...and I hope more people get on board, it's so easy (and fun) to plant habitat for these guys!

  10. I can never get enough of your beautiful pollinator photos. So stunning. You teach us well, dear Gail. Meems

  11. Hi Gail,
    Thanks for the information. I was just asking Larry if he thought the yard was too busy. I said I was thinking about planting bigger swaths of some of the plants, and he thought that was a good idea. Now, you are saying the bees like them better, too. I better see about implementing that.

    I also like your "bee not afraid". A friend from church, who is also a FB friend, asked me to recommend some plants for her yard. I asked if she was wanting tall or short plants, and was she wanting something that didn't need much watering. I also said I plant a lot of things for the butterflies, and the bees also are drawn to a lot of those. She wrote back that they wanted to avoid bees. I haven't gotten back to her, because I was thinking she was going to post some photos of her yard. I wished I hadn't mentioned that. I think I'm going to go back and tell her bees will go to most kinds of flowers, and that I've never been stung, even though I get very close taking photos. If she doesn't want bees, maybe she could plant some grasses. I don't know if bees like those blooms, though, do you? I don't think I am going to be able to help her, though, because I am not good at landscaping. I just have a flower collection.

    1. Sue, Lot's of people are afraid of bees and it's hard to explain to them that bees are mostly all noise and buzz! Bees do not visit grasses that I know of, they are usually wind pollinated. But some grasses are host plants for skippers. gail

  12. I wasn't thinking specifically about pollinating when I wrote my garden column this week, but about protecting butterflies for their beauty. Still I touched on many of the same issues. My newspaper column eventually makes it to the blog a week later, so . . . I am happy that so many plants that are good for pollinators are also deer resistant. The rabbits don't seem to understand they are supposed to resist too.

  13. I'm a big believer is helping the pollinators, too. I take great joy that the lavender out front is full of bees and bumblebees and butterflies. And out back there are big swaths of borage that are visited from early to late by pollinators. And I have oregano all lined up to keep them going later in the season. Your post is full of great ideas and good guidance. Thank you!

  14. I noticed this year that even our native Yellow-Faced bumblebees (Bombus vosnesenskii) seem more scarce on the property this year. They're usually the one species we expect to see when our deerweed is in bloom.

    One thing we do for native bee nesting sites is we leave spent flower stalks, especially larger stalks like sunflowers, in place over winter. We don't cut them down just because they've finished blooming, as some of the native bees use them for nesting.

    I did, finally, manage to blog some of our pollinators today, and now I'm off to pick up one of those Xerces pollinator signs. We're getting quite a sign collection here! ;)

  15. Such stunning photos, Gail--you're a wonderful spokesman for the pollinators! We have a Pollinatarium on the U of I campus that provides exhibits and education for anyone interested. One of the nearby school districts has even incorporated this into their science curriculum for elementary kids, which is great. My goal is to learn just what kind of bumbles I have in my own garden.

  16. My entire garden is an organic pollinator garden. I've managed to squeeze my anti-pesticide message into my science curriculum to help educate my students. I'm headed over to the Xerces Society to check them out!

  17. Great post! I am proud to say I have had two new species of bumblebees this year along with hoverflies and some smaller bees. I need to send you a photo of one of them by email for a positive ID. It has strange, fuzzy legs.

    It takes more than one garden in a neighborhood to keep the populations up, so thanks for spreading the message.

  18. Purple coneflowers, bee balm, vitex and decaying logs. No bees. I used to have lots of bees coming to visit. Just in the last couple of years I have really noticed a sharp decline in their presence. I miss them and worry for them. I have noticed LOTS of dragonflies over the last 3 years. After reading about them I see that they eat bees. I wish I knew how to get rid of the dragonflies.
    Once again your photos are awesome. Thanks.

  19. I've been rather worried, as I haven't seen any bumblebees this year, though plenty of other types of bees (maybe I'm just bad at identifying them?) It is sad how fast our native pollinators are disappearing.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson