How to Attract and Keep Pollinators in Your Own Yard and Property
Presentation by Laura Johnson, UVM Pollinator Support Specialist
October 16, 2021
You don’t need to be a beekeeper to promote pollinators in your backyard! Many of us believe that we need to raise honeybees ourselves to keep our plants, yards and crops pollinated. But as Pollinator Specialist Laura Johnson told a group of gardeners and other residents gathered in Cornwall on October 16th, 2021, honeybees aren’t necessarily a reliable means of promoting pollination. In fact, honeybees are imported from Europe, generally need some expertise to cultivate and pollinate only 30% of the world’s food crop. By contrast, native bees and other pollinators such as flies and wasps are extremely resilient and varied, ranging from 1/8th inch long to more than an inch long. And importantly, these non-honeybee native species use a wide variety of habitat and diverse nesting spots to add to their resiliency.
Vermont has more than 300 species of wild bees and 60- 80% of wild plants in our state depend on animals, mostly bees, for the ecosystem service of pollination. So how can we promote the health of these tiny pollinators? Here are some highlights gleaned from Laura’s talk, which was sponsored by the Cornwall Conservation Commission, and other sources:
- Keep it messy! Because native species nest both on the ground (about 70%) and in wood or plant stem cavities (30%), try to reduce the amount of autumn clean-up you do in your yard. Let piles of brush, bunch grasses, rock piles, yard waste, hollow plant stems and twigs remain undisturbed at least until spring.
- Keep it nearby! Many smaller native pollinator species will only travel a few hundred feet or less, so try to create habitat for them as close as possible to the flowers, plantings or crops that you want pollinated.
- Go no or low-mow! Try not to mow when plants are in flower. Mow just 1/3rd to ½ of your lawn or field at any given time. Leave one or more patches unmown for the whole year, or make a mosaic where no one area is mowed more than once a year.
- Celebrate “no-mow May”! This allows dandelions and other similar flowering plants to provide food to pollinators in the early season.
- Be lazy! If you practice “lazy mowing” and mow only every two to three weeks, you will save time and money and you will allow for clover, dandelions and other native flowering plants to emerge.
- Aim high! If you do have to mow, mow at least 5 inches from the ground. Mowing as high as possible helps prevent disturbing established nests or overwintering queens. In fact, when haying, a minimum of 12-16 inches is ideal for bumblebees.
- Go inside-out! When you mow or brush-hog, start from the inside and move outwards. This pushes insects and wildlife to field edges with each pass while minimizing their exposure and flight distance to protected areas, like a hedgerow or fence.
- Don’t be afraid! Remember, solitary bees are docile and do not aggressively defend their nests. In fact, their stinger actually helps them lay their eggs and they only sting when threatened.