Support Your Local Pollinators
Professor Steve Dubik wants to talk about the birds and the bees. Not those—the pollinators. The Montgomery College professor and program chair of the environmental horticulture and sustainable agribusiness program says the population of pollinators, which also includes bats, beetles, butterflies, moths, wasps, and even flies, is declining in Maryland—and around the world.
“Eighty percent of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators—and an estimated one-third of all foods and beverages are delivered by pollinators,” says Dubik. “Their [pollinators] decline is a ‘red flag’ for our planet.”
In fact, according to a December 2022 paper published in Environmental Heath Perspectives, three to five percent of the global fruit, vegetable, and nut production is lost due to inadequate pollination, leading to an estimated 427,000 excess deaths around the world annually from lost healthy food consumptions and associated diseases.
What can Montgomery County residents do to protect the pollinators?
Dubik says residents can follow this guidance to increase the pollinator population:
- Plant native flowers that bloom at various times. A wider range of pollinators can be attracted if residents plant flowers of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Find flowers native to the Washington Metropolitan area at the National Wildlife Foundation’s website at nwf.org/NativePlantFinder.
- Plant in groups. Pollinators more easily find flowers planted in a group, rather than scattered throughout the yard.
- Avoid planting flowers that produce sterile or double-type flowers. These flowers often produce little or no nectar or pollen for the pollinators. Examples of double flower plants include roses, peonies, carnations, anemones, and camelias.
- Pollinators get thirsty. Provide a shallow dish of water with small stones. The small stones will function as landing platforms.
- Leave the leaves. When leaves fall, do not rake them or shred them. Instead, you can move them into existing flower beds where they will provide shelter for wintering pollinators.
- Leave a few logs or a brush pile. Some bees and beetles make their nests in rotted logs.
- Supply a small patch of bare ground—this can serve as a nesting site for ground-bees.
- Consider installing or making a pollinator or bee box.
- Limit the use of pesticides. If you apply pesticides use pesticides that are least toxic to pollinators and apply them late in the evening or at night when pollinators like bees are not active. Make targeted applications rather broadcast sprays that are frequently done for mosquito control.
- Be mindful, even some organic pesticides and biologicals including even those labeled natural like garlic oil and Beauveria bassiana, can severely reduce populations of all insects and should be avoided!
- Examples of least-toxic insecticides include insecticidal petroleum or plant-based oils, soaps, and the microbial insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis.
“It doesn’t matter how big your yard is,” says Dubik. “The smallest gardens with the right plants attract pollinators—even if you live in a high-rise apartment. . . Together proper plant selection and care will make a difference in enhancing our ecosystem. If we all do our part in the judicious use of pesticides, we can make a difference.”
Banner Photo Caption: Beekeeping instructor Gregg Gochnour recently demonstrated beekeeping activities for environmental horticulture and sustainable agribusiness students at the Germantown Campus. The College maintains beehives to aid instruction and to promote pollination of its gardens and greenhouse plants.