Love Thy Pollineighbor: Seven Practical Tips for Going Wild with Habitat

Monarch nectaring

Monarch Butterfly

The first two posts of this series highlighted current issues and corresponding causes of pollinator decline. This post offers tips, solutions, and many resources for helping you help our most important winged beings live well and prosper by way of creating habitat. The next/last post in this series will offer a plethora of thrilling tips for eliminating synthetic pesticides in your life. Don’t touch that dial!

Pollinators are no different from humans when it comes to basic survival needs: water, food, and a roof over their heads. The home environment of a pollinator, or habitat, is the place they rest, nest, eat, drink, and be merry. Join the international movement to create a special space in your yard for the pollinators. Or here’s a nutty idea: Remove your lawn altogether and replace it with pollinator habitat. You’ll save water and bees at the same time. Win-win.

1. Don’t be Bugged

While this may have very little to do with habitat, it’s a vital component of the topic, pollinators. For those who abhor insects (ah hem, I know a couple of you), growing a tolerance for insects is really the first step to appreciating and ultimately loving them. Try not to be bugged by the winged critters. According to experts at the master gardener classes (Oregon State University Extension), only 1-2% of insect species are considered pests or harmful. What does this mean for you? Unnecessary stress if you fear every little guy that stumbles into your house in search of a meal. So just because it looks like a fly does not mean it will eat poop and puke on your picnic lunch. There are some bees who resemble flies, and a variety of insects, like midges, who resemble mosquitoes. Don’t reach for the swatter until you learn more about pollinators here and many free guides by Xerces Society here.

Did you know a female bumblebee has six segments on her abdomen? Learn more about bumblebee identification by Xerces Society here.

UCDavis has a practical and useful poster on the natural enemies of garden pests.

One of my all-time favorite sites is What’s That Bug. The “Bugman,” Daniel Marlos of Mt. Washington, California has extraordinary powers to identify insects. I maximized on his vast brain resource (and his love of insects) while traveling around Mexico and South Africa. I’m sure a little donation goes a long way given the bugman’s work is free to the world.

~Check out the Integrated Plant Protection Center’s pocket guide (pdf) of garden pests.
~Here’s a cool poster (pdf) to identify native bees.
~Learn more about beneficial insects here (photos plus useful content) you want to have in your garden.

Good Bug Bad Bug (source unknown)

Good Bug Bad Bug Source: Urban Sunshine

Beneficial Insects Infographic

Meet the beneficial insects courtesy of “Alternative Gardning

2.  Create a Pollinator Garden

By creating a pollinator garden, you are contributing to the overall happiness of your local and busy winged friends. Take the million pollinator garden challenge here and be part of a growing movement to make the earth a healthier place for our beneficial winged beings.

The best pollinator gardens:

~~Include plants that provide nectar and pollen.
Going native will help create a garden that has a symbiotic relationship to the insects who visit. See more on the next section.
~~Provide a water source.
I keep little saucers of water around the yard, A fountain is preferable, because running water won’t encourage mosquito mating. For now and until I find a fountain, I empty my little dishes in the evening and fill them back up in the morning. Have you ever watched a bee or butterfly drink water? Super.Cute.
~~ Are pesticide free. Never ever ever ever use pesticides (herbicides or insecticides) on your pollinator garden. Ever. Please.

Here is a pdf from Renee’s Garden on attracting beneficial insects.
OSU extension has another document (pdf) that details beneficial insects and the garden flowers that attract them as well as beneficial insects and the pests they control.

According to Kristina Lefever of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, for honeybees, grow more native flowers and pollinator plants (simple blooms), because the more complex the plant, like tomatoes and lupins, the less attractive it is to honeybees. Lefever added, “It’s challenging for a honeybee to get in there and move around inside a complex plant. Honeybees prefer a simple meal like dandelions, fennel, and sunflowers, because all they have to do is land on it. It’s less work. The complicated plants are pollinated by more agile or smaller bees.”

Plants that attract bees

Save the bees by planting these! Source: Rayon the Bug Guy

3. Go Native! Get Crazy. Bee Wild.

Evolution has designed native plants to withstand the climate in each particular region and to attract native critters making your garden less attractive to nonnative species. Go native. Your neighbors will LOVE it. Check out The Xerces Society’s pollinator friendly plant lists according to your region in the US. This same link includes information on pollinator plants in Mexico, Canada, parts of Western Europe, East Africa and Australia.

Another noteworthy resource is the US Native Plant Database from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (this information provided by Phyl Stiles of Bee City USA and Kristina Lefever of PPRV). As a side note, this site offers  information on drought tolerant plants. When in doubt about which native plants work best for your space, visit your local nursery, you know, the one that supports organic or nontoxic plants, for advice on natives. Keep in mind that places like Walmart, Lowe’s, your local grocery store, and Home Depot spray their plants with neonicotinoids (neonics) ultimately contributing to pollinator decline. Some good news on that front: Home Depot is phasing this out and as of 2018 should have neonic-free plants for sale.

If you want nontoxic plants and are unsure, ask. At your local nursery, the grocery store, wherever. If you ask, “Do you spray your plants?” and the establishment does not know, then do not purchase there. If they say yes, clarify which products they use. If you choose not to purchase because of their practices, let them know, in writing, if possible (email). Be a pollinactivist (finally, one of my made-up words that does not yet exist on the intergoogle!) and good things will happen.

The US Fish and Wildlife has some resources to help called Pollinators: How You Can Help.
This beautiful illustrated guide details attracting pollinators using native plants.

4. Impress Your Neighbors with a Dandy Yard

Save bees, save dandelions

Bees LOVE Dandelions

Dandelions are considered one of the first sources of fuel for native bees, and many bees enjoy this yummy treat. Add to it, they are a source of fuel (and great nutrition) for you in the form of dandelion greens, assuming your dog hasn’t peed on them. Kristina Lefever of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley shares her thoughts in a recent Op- Ed on the virtues of dandelions. Below is a 30 second video I made of a honeybee at our garden’s dandelion buffet. If he had words, I am certain he would be yelling, “I’m SO happy! Happy HAppy HAPpy HAPPy HAPPY!!!!”

5. Bee Hospitable

Hospitality is the key. Support the Mason or other Solitary Bees in your yard by setting up housing, bee digs, I call it. Learn more about creative bee hotels here. I’ve purchased this Crown Bees Mason Bee Holes Wood Tray, Small (it is very small) and Wildlife World Interactive Mason Bee Management System House for our local bees. It arrived just yesterday! I’ll write back with an update after I get it setup and our little mason bees get settled into their new crib. You can help the bees make their mud huts inside the housing by providing just a wee bit of mud nearby. They use the mud for their nests.

~~Check out the Xerces Society
factsheet (pdf) on Nests for Native Bees, and then go out there help build some nests!

Mason Bee House image

Solitary Bee Nester – not yet hung in its permanent place

6.  Get Messy

Lefever upholds that habitat is so important for native bees, that we humans could help by practicing a little untidiness in our yards. This is because native bees lay their eggs either on the stalks of dead vegetation, dead trees, old beetle tunnels, or in the ground. If our yards are nice and neat and tidy there is no place to lay the eggs, or if everything is covered up with mulch, the bees are unable to get under it to lay. Get messy, save time and money on yard work! Here’s how:

~~In the Fall use all your willpower and do not prune back all your shrubs. This will help any number of overwintering insects as well as birds who will savor the taste of dried seeds or pods. You can prune that stuff back midspring when everyone (meaning the insects) wake up and start to go about their business.
~~Change the ole mindset. Natural does not equal junky. Natural is beautiful. Ask a butterfly.

“If you cut down all the dead trees, where do the owls and woodpeckers go?”
~Kristina Lefever

7. Got Milkweed?

A Monarch Cluster

A Cluster of Monarchs

I just cannot help myself. I love the Monarchs whole-heartedly. Is it their stunning colors creating fiery brilliance on trees, shrubs, and in the clouds? Could it be their unique patterning making them the most familiar butterfly in history? Maybe, but mostly I love them because they are an unmistakable symbol of perseverance and transformation. These remarkable little beings travel 3000 miles to sustain their existence on earth. They endure the most difficult situations on that journey – strong winds, heavy rains in some places, lack of water in other places, lack of food, and this list goes on. They persist despite the arduous journey. But their battle does not end with seeking food, water, and shelter. They have much more than the daily elements-related obstacles to grapple with on this several week journey. They have to battle multinational, multibillion, agrochemical companies too.

Synthetic pesticides, like Roundup, sprayed along medians of highways, around farms, and at homes are either killing them off or adding strain to an already tough life for these resilient but flailing iconic winged beings. Monarchs are losing their battle.

What can you do to help the Monarchs survive?

~~Do not use synthetic pesticides (herbicides and insecticides). Ever. Please.

~~Grow native milkweed
Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed. A Monarch Mama-to-be will die looking for milkweed. If she finds it, she may lay up to 400 eggs. If she doesn’t, the earth loses 400 Monarch baby opportunities. By growing milkweed, you will be helping this most precious butterfly, an internationally known ambassador of the earth, survive. 
Buy native milkweed at your local nursery or farm. Xerces’ Milkweed Seed Finder is the best place to start.

The Monarch Joint Venture has a cluster of resources for creating Monarch habitat. In addition to resources like specific milkweed for each region and specific instructions on creating Monarch habitat (including milkweed seed propagation), Monarch Watch is looking for the public’s assistance for seed donations and restoration efforts.

~~STOP supporting BigAg and avoid genetically modified food
Between the depleted habitat created by BigAg in the midwest (a major thoroughfare for the migrating Monarchs) and the certainty of crops being heavily sprayed with pesticides (both herbicides and insecticides), Monarch populations are dwindling. BigAg because of monocropping is harming the earth in countless and striking ways. The best way to avoid GM foods is to buy organic from your local farmer, but not everyone can afford that. Next best is your small-scale farmer who uses sustainable farming methods. Otherwise, you may have to remove corn, soy, canola, cottonseed (usually cottonseed oil), and sugar beets from your diet. No easy task in the US! Nearly 70% of processed foods have genetically modified ingredients.

Hope and Good news and All That Jazz

The Illinois Tollway Board is looking to plant milkweed along the nearly 300 miles of interstate highways to help the Monarchs. As many highway medians around the US are being sprayed with Roundup, ultimately killing the milkweed and the Monarchs, the Illinois Tollway is taking action to assuage the situation. Well done.

Bee Zazzled

I recently started my online Zazzle store. I have not yet seen the finished product. If you order something, please let me know what you think. Fingers and toes crossed you like it. You’ll find stickers, tee-shirts, and signs. More stuff is being added regularly.

I love Pollinators

Just in – from my Zazzle store!

Love thy Pollineighbor

Love Thy Pollineighbor bumper sticker

What are you doing at home to make your space for your pollineighbors?
What do you think about creating a pollinator oasis?
Share all your wild ideas in the comments section.
Let’s learn new things from one another.

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 “94 was a good year to be twelve. Star Wars still had two more years as Box Office King, cartoons were still hand-drawn, and the Disney “D” still looked like a backwards “G.” Words like “Columbine,” “Al Qaeda” and “Y2K” were not synonymous with “terror,” and 9-1-1 was an emergency number instead of a date. At twelve years old, summer still mattered. Monarch caterpillars still crawled beneath every milkweed leaf. Dandelions (or “wishes” as Mara called them) were flowers instead of pests. And divorce was still considered a tragedy. Before Mara, carnivals didn’t make me sick.”
~Jake Vander Art, The Accidental Siren

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24 Comments:

  1. I love how strong monarchs are. They have vice-like grips! And we’re planting a pollinator garden for them as they travel to and fro (too close to an overwintering site for milkweed). If I could post a picture I would share the monarch gynandromorph I recently found here in PG. Cool dude/ette.

    • Whaaa? A Monarch gynandromorph? I can’t even spell that. I’ll post the pic for ya. If it’s already posted somewhere else, I’ll link to it.

      Rock on with the pollinator garden. I almost got into the “but don’t plant milkweed if you’re on the CA coast…” but I was too tired. There’s somewhere nearby (coastal) where they have Monarchs year round now. Maybe Monarchs are evolving to stick around since their habitat is being destroyed elsewhere?

  2. They would be smart to do so, but I worry it could disrupt their natural migration pattern and leave places barren. The pros and cons are, I think, above my pay grade. But I love gynandromorphs! Here’s the link to the FB post I built on it (if that works)! https://www.facebook.com/pgmuseum/photos/a.325210874670.147588.57442079670/10153188671049671/?type=3&theater

  3. It is funny because here in the Bay Area a Pollineighbor means something else 🙂 I loved this newsletter. So informative!

  4. So much info! Sweet article.

  5. Thank you Kenda.
    Some neighbiors and I are meeting with the Gold Hill Irrigation District to ask them to stop spraying Glyphosate along the canal that knocks down the Monarch’s host plant, Milkweed.
    We are agreeing to manually remove the weeds (leaving the Milkweed) along canal each year.
    Thank you for compiling this all together. I will Bee sharing as I represent the Pollinator Project of Rogue Valley at ‘Gold Dust Days’ in Gold Hill.
    That day, I will bee looking for ‘worker bees’ to help this city qualify for as ‘Pollinator Friendly’ and get the certification of Bee City USA.
    As a first project, I would like to start a Pollinator Demonstration Garden during Pollinator Week, that will show the City’s commitment to and concern for the pollinators.
    Great job.
    NatureLee Inspired

    • Thank you for your comment, Lee! Wow! I’m thoroughly impressed with what you’ve inspired at Gold Hill. I could only hope to be that successful in Jacksonville. Please keep us updated on your progress. I will be (eventually) blogging about my process here in J’ville. Well done!

  6. Great blog, Kenda! Thank you so much for putting together so much information!

    A couple of things to add – another great local resource for monarchs and milkweed is Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates, or SOMA.
    https://www.facebook.com/somonarchs/

    Looking for plants native to Southern Oregon? Check out this website https://klamathsiskiyouseeds.com/

    Also, bee careful about those dandelions – some ‘dandelions’ are really hawkweed aka cats ear, an invasive around these parts. Look at the plant, not just the flower – is it a low-growing hairy rosette, with a long stem wiry stem? Dandelions leaves are more vertical and have pretty (edible) green, jagged tooth leaves, and the stem is hollow. (wish I had mentioned this in my letter to the paper!)
    http://identifythatplant.com/dandelion-and-cats-ear/

    Finally, here is a list of SOME of the neonic products sold in stores – remembering that seeds as well as plants can be treated:
    http://www.xerces.org/wings-magazine/neonicotinoids-in-your-garden/

    Thanks, Kenda! Keep these blogs coming!

    • This is all fabulous, Kristina! Thank you kindly for taking the time to share this wisdom. I will (at some point in the not-to-far-future) add an update with this info you provided. Excellent!

  7. Laura Huntington

    A haiku for you:

    Bees and Butterflies,
    without your food will not grow.
    Go Pollinators!

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