Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of 2 columns on how you can support pollinators in your garden.
June has been named Colorado Pollinator Month to raise awareness of the many ways you can support local pollinator populations. Let’s review some ways everyone can learn and take action from supportive gardening practices and get locally involved.
Here in Colorado, we are blessed to be surrounded by beautiful pollinators and beneficial plants. To learn more, I attended the Planting for Pollinators webinar with experts last week hosted by People and Pollinators Action Network (PPAN). If you missed it, you can see it on PPAN’s YouTube channel. During the webinar, panelists shared some ways we can all take action for pollinators, whether or not you have a yard to turn into a pollinator garden. One of the takeaways is that pollinators are a way of talking about human well-being. When we are surrounded by lots of flowers and greenery with healthy soil, we humans feel healthier, and so do our pollinators. A more integrated ecosystem includes “helping pollinators, [and] we also support people,â according to Joyce Kennedy, director of programs for PPAN.
Get involved in Colorado’s pollinator politics
Let’s dig into community and politics as a broader way everyone can support pollinators by influencing green spaces.
Fun fact first, Colorado approved a pollinator license plate possibility from 2022.
In other 2022 CO policies, the bill, Colorado SB22-199, was passed to conduct a statewide study to protect native pollinating insects. However, Colorado SB22-131, the Pollinators and Human Health Bill, failed this year. This focused on reducing neonicotinoid insecticides in school zones. The bill focused on the use of pesticides in the declining health of Colorado’s native bee population because pesticides impact all pollinating or visiting creatures, not just pests. .
You can find out more from a new campaign, More clearance less spray , which PPAN launched to shift urban environments towards more organic, native plantings. A great action we can all take is to learn more about the impacts of pesticides on invertebrates to guide your own decisions and gardening. There is the IPI database with research summaries hosted by Xerces. The Xerces society for the conservation of invertebrates also offers a Pollinator Protection Pledge which you can sign to “grow pollinator-friendly flowers, provide nesting sites, avoid pesticides, and spread the word.” PPAN has a Pollinator Safe Property Pledge that you can also sign.
Act where you live
You can volunteer with organizations that support pollinators in your neighborhood and community. An example this summer is reducing pesticide use in Denver parks by weeding by hand. Two nonprofit organizations, People and Pollinators Action Network (PPAN) and Wild Ones, are teaming up with horticulturalists from Denver Parks and Recreation to weed in various parks around Denver throughout the summer. Learn more and join their list of volunteers.
If you are in an apartment or building with no personal outdoor space, look to nearby green spaces around you to support pollinator habitat development. These can be grass areas on the property, a dog run or a nearby park. PPAN offers a downloadable guide to creating pollinator safe communities and can help you work with businesses to ensure pollinator-safe practices and spaces. But if you have a patio or balcony, pollinators can visit pots up to about the 4th floor, so get into container gardening.
For garden owners, you can take action by dedicating an area to pollinators. Turf uses more water resources and often synthetic fertilizers and herbicides than pollinator gardens. If you need sod, think about how much you need and carve out an area to build a garden corner for pollinators. Ideally, it’s a quiet spot where pollinators can come and go without kids and dogs wandering around.
Planting for pollinators is a long game because pollinators need nesting and wintering grounds that are undisturbed. Dead stems, piles of branches, and exposed soil are all good insect nesting materials. Avoid cutting or cleaning leaves at the end of the summer season, leaving this corner a little wilder than the rest of your garden.
Demand pollinator-friendly pest management
Due to the short life cycles of pollinating insects, it can be easy to add a few functional additions like flowering plants. Here’s what to know before you rush out and buy plants, but rather find pollinator- or bee-friendly growers. Many purchased plants can be toxic to pollinators. Supporting pollinators, many organizations then recommend buying from nurseries that do not use chemicals to treat during growth, such as organic or native plants. As it can be difficult to know, the general advice is to buy from nurseries that grow locally rather than those that ship, especially from out of state, when possible.
In the Planting for Pollinators webinar, Laurel Starr, a pollinator advocate in Golden, reviewed local pesticide use in the Denver-area nursery industry. For the Denver area, you can read an original citizen shopping list plants safe for bees of the work of Kelli Marco’s Sustainable Neighborhood Network. According to this article, Front Range has good options for pesticide-free, homegrown, systemic plants and/or native plants. Buying bee-safe plants is another movement and the Xerces company has a guide for retailers and buyers.
If you buy plants that you are unsure of, assume they have been treated at some point. Research shows that systemic pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, are present in the plant for up to 18 months after treatment. You can minimize damage to your home’s ecosystem by shaking most of the soil into the trash and removing flowers for the entire first season after planting.
Switch to Colorado Native Plants
A final pollinator action you can do is build habitats by adding more native plants. While there are many flowering options for pollinators, native plants support native populations in meeting their unique needs and evolutionarily relevant desires. As a transplant myself from Colorado, planting for pollinators provides an opportunity to learn about our soil, sun, and water conservation needs. Kennedy with PPAN says switching to more native plants helps because they don’t require as many resources, have more long-term success, have deep roots and water absorption, and less time for gardening at long term. Native plants also tend to be more resistant to pests, allowing less pesticide application. They also tend to be more drought tolerant, which helps with water conservation efforts.
What exactly is native? A quick example, honey bees are native to Europe and often people think of them in conversations about pollination. Still, Colorado is home to 946 native bee species. Research shows that native plants are four times more attractive to these native species than most common ornamental flowers sold in nurseries and commercial stores.
Overall, remember supporting pollinators means being intentional about what is planted to promote biodiversity for all kinds of pollinators, having flowers throughout the season, and caring for habitat and from the ground by what we put in it (or not).
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