How to Plant A Pollinator Garden for Native Bees, Butterflies and Other Beneficial Insects

It All Started With a Tiny Plant Tag….

Last spring I brought home a few seemingly innocuous flowering perennial plants from a major chain home store to add a little color to our yard and I found a little surprise…A tag that told me my flowers were treated with neonicotinoids to protect them from “problematic pests”.

Wait, what…? Neonicotinoids? Aren’t those supposed to be really, really bad for honeybees? To add to my confusion, printed on the back of the tag was this: “These pesticides are approved by the EPA.” Isn’t the EPA supposed to protect at risk and endangered species like the honeybee and other pollinators?

A little googling and I found out that for years the EPA stated that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that neonicotinoids were harmful to bees or any other species of animal. In January of 2016, they revised that statement and have begun new investigations into the 5 different classes of pesticides considered to be neonicotinoids.

Be on the lookout for similar tags where you buy your plants; I even take the extra step of asking someone about it when I’m at a locally owned store, just to be on the safe side.

Bees in the Mountains…

About a month later while on vacation in the beautiful Northeast Georgia Mountains, my family and I took an afternoon to visit the Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center in Blairsville. Here, the University of Georgia has 415 acres of orchards, test plots, pasture land, specimen and preservation gardens, historic sites and forests, including a lovely native Georgia pollinator garden. While on the full tour of each of the areas of the station, the hot topic was bees and neonicotinoids and I began to realize how important every tiny garden plot is to the overall health of native bees.

In September of last year, local officials in Dorchester County, South Carolina sprayed naled, which is another class of pesticide, over a 15-square mile area of the county near Charleston. Officials sprayed the area out of concern about the spread of the Zika virus across the South, although only 4 reported cases of travel related Zika. Unfortunately, officials failed to contact local apiarists and the media in order to alert hobbyists, so area bees were basically obliterated overnight. Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply, in Summerville estimated that 46 of their hives, or about 2.5 MILLION bees, dies immediately.

The Sound of Silence…

Spring is to Savannah as Autumn is to the Adirondacks. Each year as azaleas, dogwoods, tulip blossoms and other flowering shrubs and trees come to life, you can literally hear the buzz of bees everywhere. Just a mere 100 miles away from Dorchester County, this Spring in Savannah has been hauntingly quiet.

Noticing the changes in my little corner of the world, coupled with the string of events in 2016 didn’t make me want to take up beekeeping, though (I was once stung on the eyelid and within 60 seconds my eye and face was swollen like a ballon. Ouch!) While I totally appreciate the important place of bees in the global ecosystem, I’m not ready to get up close and personal with the whole hive. If that is your thing, I salute you and I’ll gladly pay for your beautiful locally sourced honey if I see you at the farmers market!

It DID make me want to do the next best thing, which is to plant a pollinator garden using plants indigenous to Coastal Georgia.

What are the Best Pollinator Plants for My Zone..?

I started by calling our local cooperative extension office to see if they could share any resources with me to do the research. Try googling “Cooperative Extension Office in…” and add your city and state at the end to get in touch with someone to help you. Bonus tip; they also do things like assist you in getting your tap water checked for contaminants and soil sample testing to help you feed your lawn exactly what it needs.

Luckily, my local cooperative extension had several great online resources to share, one of which is the Native Plant Finder. In addition to providing a directory of pollinator plants indigenous to your area (you just enter your zip code) it also “scores” each plant with a number based on how many pollinators feed on and/or use the plant as a host for caterpillars. So cool!

I’m still working on researching and selecting the plants for our pollinator garden, but in the meantime, I “reclaimed’ an embarrassingly neglected garden bed near our garage that gets lots of sun. We have a compost bin rich with dried leaves and and other decomposed organic matter, so after a heavy application, we’ll have a healthy start for our pollinator garden. Here is a picture of it today, pre-planting. 

Thanks for visiting our blog! Stay tuned to find out which native pollinator plants I select and why, plus photos of the process and the finished garden…

 

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