The Pollinator Path is a series of gardens, some planted to attract pollinators and some planted for aesthetic purposes. These gardens allow students, faculty, staff and visitors to study pollinator activity and learn how to support declining pollinator populations.
A pollinator is any animal that assists in plant fertilization by moving pollen from the anther of a flower to the stigma of a flower. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, moths, birds, beetles, bats and other animals. Most flowering plants, including many food crops, depend on pollinators for fertilization. Some plants depend on one specialized pollinator.
Pollinators face significant threats. Habitats are lost to crops, paved areas and landscapes that are designed for humans rather than pollinators. Climate change and the use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, also pose serious problems. 30% of the bee population in the U.S. has disappeared in the last five years. Scientists estimate that the monarch butterfly population has declined more than 70%. Although it is impossible to track all pollinator species, declines have been seen in other invertebrate and vertebrate species.
You can help support pollinators by planting native flowers that bloom at different times during the growing season; providing sources of water with platforms or graduated edges to prevent drowning; and offering spaces for nesting, such as bare, unmulched ground, piles of brush or man-made nests. Avoid using pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. If you must use a pesticide, follow the instructions carefully. Start noticing pollinators and evaluating your landscape in terms of the way it supports them!
- Plant flowering plants that are known to attract pollinators. Pick from annuals, herbs, vegetables, perennials, and flowering shrubs and trees.
- Plant a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through late fall to feed pollinators for as long as possible.
- Replace sod with flower beds OR seed flowering groundcovers into the lawn, such as clover.
- Provide sources of water in shallow, graduated-edge saucers or bowls so pollinators can stand at the edge and drink. Flat stones placed in a deeper birdbath can provide the right platform, as well as a bed of gravel in the bottom.
- Many plants gather water on their leaves, including hostas, lady’s mantles, cup plants, sedums and water lilies.
- A water-feature such as a pond or fountain will need water plants or stones to provide drinking platforms so the bees don’t drown.
- Ground-dwelling native bees need bare, unmulched ground, especially on south-facing slopes in well-draining soil. Do not use landscape cloth or excessive mulch.
- Tunnel-nesting native bees need hollow stems or cavities in which to lay their eggs. You can make or buy native bee nests made from a variety of materials. You can also leave your perennials up all winter and let bees use the hollow stems for their eggs. If you must cut your perennials back, leave at least 16” of stem for the bees.
- Debris-nesting bumble bees need dense piles of brush, grass or stones to provide a cavity sheltered from rain. A tidy yard is not a good habitat for bumble bees!
- Refrain from using pesticides in your home and yard. Investigate alternate methods for managing pests.
- If you must use a pesticide, do not use neonicotinoids, and be sure to follow all label instructions, especially those pertaining to pollinators. These include not using pesticides when bees are present or on flowering plants that will be visited by pollinators in the near future.