Creating Urban Pollinator Habitat

An article for the upcoming issue of Overlook Views Newsletter
by Mulysa Melco

What’s all the buzz about bees? They have been in the news lately because honey bee populations are is crisis and our native bees are under threat from habitat loss, pesticide use and other stresses. Our food security is at stake, so this is a big deal. The good news is that you can help! Overlook neighbor Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist for the Xerces Society, an international invertebrate conservation group, says any size plot can become pollinator habitat, even a container garden on a porch. “One of the great things about pollinator gardens is that we know they make a difference.” Gardens are important habitat and help create corridors so bees can travel between wild areas.

Rich has been interested in bees, insects and other pollinators for a long time and enjoys photographing them. So when he was thinking of how to landscape his unused sloping front lawn, a pollinator garden was an easy choice. He hoped it could turn into something beautiful that would engage his children and neighbors with nature, even in the city.

The process involved digging up the turf and amending the soil with an organic planting mix. While he could have sheet mulched (a labor-saving method of layering compost and other organic matter to prepare the soil) and waited for the ground to be ready to plant, he wanted instant gratification. Rich looked to the Xerces Society’s regional-specific plant list to choose the most beneficial plants for our native bees. Finding a source for some of the native plants was a challenge, but some local suppliers came through. Family, friends and neighbors helped with the installation. “I’ve heard lots of compliments from folks as they walk by or come to visit. It has been a great conversation starter, and I feel the garden has helped raise awareness about pollinators in the neighborhood. People ask for plant recommendations, and occasionally I get to point out and identify different bees with people!”

Rich says that the best thing about pollinator conservation is that everyone can do something. With many conservation-related causes, the help you provide is usually indirect, and tracking results is difficult. With pollinator conservation if you build it, the bees and other wildlife will come! “The more habitat the better, but every little bit helps, especially if your neighbors are doing something too. Creating pollinator habitat requires three things: nesting habitat, flowers in bloom from spring through fall, and a pesticide-free environment.” You can also add a water source for bees, similar to a bird bath but shallower, with rocks for bees to land on. Leaving some bare soil in your yard offers ground-nesting solitary bees a home, while bumble bees might like taller grass, a brush or compost pile or a meadow planting.

If youʼd like to plant a pollinator garden of your own, Xercesʼ approachable book “Attracting Native Pollinators” is a great place to start. Their website is also a great resource with plant lists, instructions on building native bee houses and tips for protecting bees from pesticides. There is also a list of local nurseries that stock pollinator friendly native plants.

Once you start gardening for bees, you might just get drawn in by the excitement of spotting bee visitors (and hummingbirds and butterflies). Creating pollinator habitat is something we can do together as a community to make a difference!

The Xerces Society www.xerces.org/bringbackthepollinators/

Help make our whole neighborhood a pollinator-friendly zone! Register your yard as pesticide-free at www.sustianableoverlook.org

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