We are sharing this space. It’s not just ‘our’ yard—we share with the pollinators. Reducing Chemicals or adding plants to attract birds and insects adds beauty to your yard while helping all of us thrive. ~Samantha Elkinton
A collaborative study done in 2011 determined the majority of the plants in the world are pollinated by animals. What that means, according to bee and crop specialists, is that pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat.
For that, we can thank many species of birds, bats, bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and even fireflies, that pollinate plants. They also sustain our ecosystems and yield our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.
In the bee universe, there are many types native to Texas, as well as bumble- and honeybees, whose declines warrant our concern. Samantha Elkinton, Garden Manager at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, says one of the simplest things we can do, is to not do something. “We have created a campaign to encourage people not to pull dandelions. They are the first flowers to bloom in the spring and although it seems like a never-ending battle for your lawn, they are a great source of nourishment for pollinators. If you must get rid of them, try countering their absence with other native, early bloomers like the Elbow Bush or Golden Groundsel.” Samantha says these plants begin to bloom as early as February and attract bees like crazy. She also recommends Windflowers, which bloom throughout the Spring.
Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, combines appropriate methods to reduce pests; insects, diseases, and rodents to acceptable levels while causing the least impact on the environment and public health. Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, says managing your yard might include native plants, which need less fertilizer, herbicides, water, or pesticides. “All the chemicals you might use have potential to damage bees and caterpillars—not just in your yard, but also next door or across your neighborhood. Insects pick up the chemicals and take them to their next landing. The impact is greater than your own lawn.”
Most pollinator poisoning occurs when toxic pesticides are applied to crops during the blooming period. Poisoning can also result from:
- Drift of pesticides onto adjoining plants in bloom.
- Contamination of flowering ground cover plants when sprayed with pesticides.
- Pesticide residues being picked up by foraging pollinators and taken back to the nest/colony.
- Pollinators drinking or touching contaminated water sources or dew on recently treated plants.
Kate and Samantha agree, the safest way to get rid of weeds is to pull them out by hand; the safest way to rid your plants of worms is to pick them off. “It’s broad advice; you don’t want to kill the friendly caterpillars for the sake of a few worms. As well, runoff is a big concern; any time you put chemicals in the ground, depending on toxicity and quantity, you’re potentially affecting ground water, aquifers, greenbelts and other yards.”
Samantha recommends organic whenever possible; “Even indoors, you can use soapy water without causing damage or residual toxins. “ Kate suggests, “If you must use a pesticide, look under Environmental Hazards and Directions for Use. Some are limited to plants not currently in bloom, or only sprayed when bees are not actively visiting (late evening). It is always the user’s responsibility to abide by the guidelines. You may have to treat more often, but it’s safer for you and, down the line, our friendly pollinators.”