April Showers Bring May Flowers (for Pollinators)

With Spring in full swing, the promise of warm weather inspires many people to look to their lawns and gardens. However, many Marylanders may not be aware that plans to liven up their landscape may have impacts that go beyond their front yards. This season, citizens can plant with purpose and support pollinators by including flowering perennials to their landscape.

2016 was a tough year for pollinators, as bees, butterflies, birds, and other creatures that help plants reproduce declined in population from loss of habitat, food, and widespread pesticide use. Most notably, the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) reported that losses of Maryland bee colonies exceeded 56 percent.

No food source is safe so long as pollinators are endangered, as the production of fruits, vegetables, and many animal products could not occur without their help. According to the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN), pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food that we eat!

Providing flowering plants is the most effective way anyone can support pollinators. A pollinator garden can range from the size of a window box to an entire landscape, but regardless of size, it should include plants that bloom throughout the growing season so they can continuously supply nectar and provide pollen. If possible, gardens should also be in a sunny area, sheltered from the wind so that it is easy for pollinators to visit. A water source, such as a damp sponge or birdbath, should also be nearby.

Another fantastic way to support pollinators (as well as Maryland’s ecosystem as a whole) is to discontinue the use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoid (“neonic”) pesticides. According to The Smart of Pesticides Maryland coalition, neonics have been proven to increase honey bee mortality as well as the mortality of other native pollinators, birds, and aquatic life, including molting blue crabs. These systemic chemicals may also eliminate helpful insects, causing landscapes to become weak and dependent upon chemicals for pest control.

A list of neonic-free alternatives can be found here. You can also create your own effective organic fruit and vegetable pesticide by mixing neem oil, castile soap, and warm water in a spray bottle!

With careful planning, Marylanders can use their gardens to create positive change, and join local and global efforts to protect pollinators by increasing the amount of natural and nutrient-rich habitat they need. Plant one, two, or ten of the , then, register your garden online, and join NPGN’s Million Pollinator Garden Challenge!