Pollinators play such an important role that there’s a week set aside to put them in the spotlight.
National Pollinator Week is set for June 21 to June 27, this year.
Pollinators help with fruit, seed, nut and vegetable production for many of the foods we eat.
More than 50 major crops in the United States and 13 crops in Florida are honey bee-dependent or produce greater yields because of honey bees, according to research by Delaplane and Mayer, done in 2000.
Pollinators ensure the survivability of native plant species, some of which are dependent on very specific pollinators. As the pollinators move from plant to plant, they transfer pollen from the male to the female flowers through this process of pollination. They also collect nectar from flowers and extrafloral nectaries. Extrafloral nectaries are nectar-producing glands physically apart from the flower and located on some plants.
Honey bees are some of the most well-known pollinators. But did you know pollinators include hummingbirds, ants, flies, beetles, butterflies and native bees?
Florida has more than 300 species of wild bees. Sweat bees and leafcutter bees are two of my favorites.
Pollinators are very important.
As parents, grandparents, gardeners and citizens, there are many things you can do to help pollinators.
Increase the diversity of plants in your garden to attract beneficial insects and pollinators such as bees. Remember: Plant diversity is one of the easiest and most economical forms of integrated pest management.
Also, did you know some native bees, including those that pollinate squash and pumpkin, make their nests below the soil? Be sure to reserve areas in your landscape for these native bees. Leave patches of bare, sunny soil and don’t use weed fabric or mulch. Avoid major tilling or soil disturbance to encourage these ground-nesters.
Choose plants that bloom at different times of the year. Flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen will attract pollinators. These plants deliver important nutrition if they bloom during winter and early spring.
Have a clean water source nearby. Fill it with fresh water, especially during hot days. When it’s been very dry and without much rain, I have seen a bee land on the rim of my shallow birdbath for a drink of water. I’ve seen lizards drinking out of the birdbath, too.
Select native plants such as rosinweed Silphium asteriscus, beautyberry Callicarpa americana, patridge pea Chamaecrista fasciculata, Walter’s viburnum Viburnum obovatum and cabbage palms Sabal palmetto. Bees and beneficial insects love these flowers.
Bees are especially attracted to white, yellow and purple flowers. They also like flowers they can get their short proboscises inside. Other pollinators – such as butterflies, moths and hummingbirds – go for the orange, pink and red flowers, and flowers with more complex or tubular shapes.
Limit pesticide use and choose less-toxic methods when possible. Contact your county extension office if you need help with recommendations, including “soft” pesticides, rotating pesticides and natural methods of pest control.
If using pesticides:
- Spray as close to the pest as possible. This may seem like common sense, but spot treating can be effective, while reducing risks to non-target organisms.
- Limit drift by careful application, and don’t spray on windy days.
- Avoid spraying flowers directly, or wait for flowers to drop.
Bees visit flowers for nectar and pollen. To minimize the risk of pesticide exposure to pollinators, don’t spray pesticides on flowers.
Honey bees are less active in late evening and early morning. For example, honey bees are most active during the day between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and when temperatures are above 55 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This timeframe extends through the longer days of summer.
Always check the area for bees – and look for flowering plants – before spraying. Even some weeds – such as beggarticks (commonly called Spanish needles) Bidens alba and fleabane Erigeron quercifolius – attract bees. You’ll want to avoid spraying near these weeds if they have flowers and bees are foraging. Or, remove the weeds before application.
Spraying pesticides and fungicides in the morning, late evening or even at night reduces bee exposure because bees are more likely to be at their hive rather than foraging. Spraying in the evening also gives the pesticide time to dry overnight before bees are active the next day.
Use pesticides safely. Read and follow directions on the manufacturer’s label. Pay special attention to the “Environmental Hazards” section of the label. This also applies to organic pesticides.
Remember, pesticides are one pest control strategy and should be used only when needed. In some cases, they may not be necessary. Or, a pesticide could be substituted with one that is less toxic or in a different formulation (for example, granular vs. dust or spray).
Other considerations include irrigation, fertilization, variety or cultivar selection, mowing/pruning and site conditions. Including these aspects in your approach may reduce pest pressures.
Always check plants for insects other than pests because you may find beneficial insects. These beneficial insects kill pests. If you don’t find live pest populations, a beneficial insect may have already provided you with pest control.
Some insects look alike. For example, beneficial ladybeetle larvae may resemble a pest mealybug. Don’t be too quick to treat if you’re unsure. Your county extension office can help with insect ID.
For kids, check out the 2021 Pollinator Week Toolkit for youth activities, games and puzzles available at https://www.pollinator.org/pollinator.org/assets/generalFiles/2021-Pollinator-Week-Toolkit.pdf.
If you enjoy cooking, check out the free – and beautiful – pollinator-friendly cookbook available on the Pollinator.org website. Here, you can learn about pollinator facts and “create culinary masterpieces that honor pollinators.”
Information for this column and additional details can be found in these references: Mallinger, R.E., W. Hobbs, A. Yasalonis, and G. Knox. (2019). Attracting Native Bees to Your Florida Landscape. IFAS Publication Number ENY2042. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN1255.
Ellis, J.D. et al. (2020). Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides. IFAS Publication Number ENY-162. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN1027.
Nicole Pinson is the Urban Horticulture Agent in Hillsborough County.
Published June 02, 2021