Be Kind to Pollinators

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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I recently attended a conference on pollinators. Most of us are aware that our food depends on pollination and pollinators. It was exciting to find out that many scientists are seeking answers to questions about our pollinators. Research is underway to better understand:  The levels of systemic insecticides that build up over time in pollen and nectar of ornamental horticulture crops. The best timing for applications needed to manage pests and protect pollinators. What is the optimal rate needed? What and how many of the pollinator forage plants are available in the landscape?

Laurence Packer of York University in Canada has stated that there are over 20,000 species of bees described by scientists and this does not include honeybees. When we think of bees most of us probably think of the social honeybee with hexagonal wax comb and glistening honey in a hive. There are about 4,000 species of native bees in North America that come in all sizes and colors. They range from tiny to large and from black to metallic green. There are 530 native bees in North Carolina.

The majority of native bees are solitary and 70 percent nest in the ground. Urban development effects the populations differently. Cavity nesting bees can actually benefit from urban development while ground nesting species can be considered a nuisance or pest. The solitary female excavates her own nest tunnel and digs brood cells. She places a mixture of pollen and nectar or stunned insects into the cell and lays an egg. Her actions sometimes disturb homeowners if the nesting site is near a dwelling. The urban hospitality given each species results in the amount of pollination services available from these wild pollinators.

Native bees provide a helpful role in crop pollination by increasing yields. Bumble bees and many other native bees perform buzz pollination, in which the bee grabs onto a flower’s stamens and vibrates her flight muscles, releasing a burst of pollen from deep pores in the anther. This behavior is highly beneficial for the cross-pollination of some plants including blueberries, tomatoes, and peppers. Research has shown that a diverse bee community does improve crop pollination and provides more stable pollination in variable weather.

Here are a few pointers to assist all pollinators. If plants are attractive to pollinators do not use systemic insecticides. Carefully select any products you plan to apply. Compare pesticide products checking products for residue and use less long term toxic products. Timing of pesticide application is essential. Do not use any products during flowering. Wait until after the last petal has fallen and the last pollen has shed in nectar producing plants to apply. Avoid applications when pollinators are foraging. Remove flowers by mowing lawns before applying insecticides or mow immediately after spraying. Plan to spray early in the morning or late evening when honeybees are not flying. Consider alternative application methods. Use drench, soil injection, trunk spray or granules to reduce exposure to pollinators.

Help contribute to a bee-friendly landscape by introducing native plants to your location or providing a wood or tunnel nesting site for native bees.