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Monday
Apr062015

Pollination: The Importance of Sex in the Garden

Heliconius Melpomene Madiera AKA Piano Key Butterfly feeding on Pentas at Butterfly World in Florida.Birds, bees and butterflies are more than beautiful, living garden accessories. They are essential fauna for our flora. Plants need to be pollinated. Some can be pollinated by the wind, like corn and wheat, but these flying wonders do much of the heavy lifting for other plants and are vital for them to produce berries, seeds and fruit. Seed development and fruit production are important for a plant’s continued survival. More than three quarters of all plants rely on pollination for survival. One third of the food we eat is reliant upon pollination to be produced. Chocolate, fruits, vegetables, coffee, even livestock that are raised on grains and vegetables are all dependant on the pollinators. 

Our beautiful gardens do so much more than visually stimulate us. They support an ecosystem. Flies, beetles, bats and moths are also common pollinators, but in a typical residential landscape, we prefer to open our gardens to the elegant birds, bees and butterflies. There are several things to consider when making an inviting environment for our pollinators. 

A common bumblebee hanging out on a centaurea. Scent, color and shape are some of the biggest factors in attracting pollinators to a garden. Clumping plants together in a mass makes it easier for a pollinator to find them. Red, orange, yellow and other bright colors serve as a beacon to attract them. In our gardens we prefer the pleasant scents of lilac, privet, roses, iris, catmint and herbs and so do bees. While bees cannot see red (butterflies and birds can) they are attracted to other bright colors and having several masses of different flowers is the best option to attract them. When you mass flowers, it not only creates a beautiful palette of plants to enjoy it is also beneficial for both the pollinator and your plants. They can easily locate these plants so they can return and don’t have to go far to find additional nourishment. The more colors you have, the more diverse a spectrum of pollinators you can attract.

A typical hummingbird feeder. Note the red plastic flowers to catch their eyes!Birds are attracted by sight to flowers as they don’t have a sense of smell to guide them to nectar. Birds also eat the creepy crawly critters we don’t want in our flowers while pollinating at the same time! Berries are an important food source for birds especially when the weather is cold and there are no insects to munch on. Any plant that can offer shelter for nest building and a hideaway from predators is a bonus for our winged friends. Winterberry, holly, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, millet, liatris, sunflowers, dogwood and juniper all offer berries and seeds for birds. You can also add a bird feeder to supplement their diet during lean, cold months.

A fuzzy yellow moth and an elegant orange Monarch butterfly on a purple butterfly bush.Hummingbirds are a popular bird we try to attract to our gardens and there are several ways to do so. Besides offering them attractive, trumpet shaped flowers you can also put out a feeder (which may also work for butterflies). Make sure to have a LOT of red to attract these hovering beauties and to follow the directions on filling the feeder with the best mixture to attract these interesting creatures. Hummingbirds have been observed sipping nectar from summer flowers like lantana, fuchsia, petunia and begonia. They may also visit coral bells, geranium, bee balm, honeysuckle (make sure it is a non-invasive cultivar), trumpet vine, butterfly bush, weigela, and crabapple. In the Northeast, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird can be spotted during summer months only as they migrate south for winter. If you can’t catch a glimpse of a hummingbird, many of these plants also attract butterflies.

Like hummingbirds, butterflies are also attracted to the color red. However, unlike hummingbirds that can hover while they sip, butterflies need a landing space, a wide petal or leaf to perch upon while they feed. Butterfly weed, yarrow, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, butterfly bush, and herbs like thyme and chives have either leaves or sturdy clusters of flowers to perch upon.

A small fountain or birdbath will provide water as well as style.No matter which plants we decide upon together, it is important to have a succession of blooms throughout the season to make sure you have a constant array of pollinating visitors. There is convincing evidence that pesticides and herbicides have contributed to the honeybee’s population decline. Make sure to reduce toxins in the garden. One of the ways to do this is to avoid open flowers if you have to spray anything to reduce likelihood of contaminating their food source. Choose liquid over powder as powder can stick to a pollinator’s body much like pollen does.  One last requirement for our fluttering friends: have water in the garden! Pollinators need water and having a small dish, birdbath or fountain adds a sculptural element and a necessary source of water for them in the garden.

Are you interested in attracting pollinators to your garden? We would love to answer your questions about flora and fauna. Call (631) 271-6460 or email us and talk to a professional landscape designer today!

 

Written by Ashley Palko Haugsjaa

Photos by Ashey Palko Haugsjaa