Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Birds, bees & butterflies

Creating a yard that can help our declining populations of pollinators

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/29/19

It’s no secret that most species of insect pollinators are in decline, in some cases, precipitously so. Chemicals in the environment, including the widespread use of pesticides, appear to be …

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Birds, bees & butterflies

Creating a yard that can help our declining populations of pollinators

Posted

It’s no secret that most species of insect pollinators are in decline, in some cases, precipitously so. Chemicals in the environment, including the widespread use of pesticides, appear to be playing a role in the loss of both the diversity of insect pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, here in the North Country, as well as the overall numbers of these insects.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help provide a safe environment for pollinating insects, and the gardening and landscaping choices we make right now can play a significant role in that.

Dale Dodge, who operates Greenstone Landscaping in Ely, does a lot of work with native flowers and vegetation in the area. According to Dodge, plants like columbine and bee balm are two early-to-mid season species that are attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds alike. Later season bloomers that benefit pollinators include yellow heliopsis, purple coneflowers, joe pye weed, milkweed, blue vervain, goldenrod and asters. Generally, said Dodge, flowers that are yellow or red are attractive to pollinators.

Dodge said he tries to explain to his customers about the value of planting for pollinators and finds many people are interested in doing their part.

Keep in mind that flower choices are just one part of equation. The U.S. Forest Service also offers tips on how to make life a little easier for our native pollinators, including:

Plant flowers in groups— flowers not only look better when planted in clumps, rather than single plants, such groupings make it easier for pollinators to find and use them. Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators. Do not forget that night-blooming flowers will support moths and bats.

Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “doubled” flowers.

Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the “perfect” blooms for us.

Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.

If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Use the product properly. Spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.

Include larval host plants in your landscape.

If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated. Accept that some host plants are less than ornamental if not outright weeds. A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include.

Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees.

Use a dripping hose, drip irrigation line, or place your bird bath on bare soil to create a damp area. Mix a small bit of table salt or wood ashes into the mud. You can also try putting a sponge in a tray of lightly salted water. Remember that sea salt has more micronutrients than regular table salt, so it makes a better salt source for whichever method you choose.

Spare that dead limb.

By leaving dead trees, or at least an occasional dead limb, you provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure these are not a safety hazard for people walking below. You can also build a bee condo by drilling holes of varying diameter about 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of scrap lumber mounted to a post or under eaves.

You can add to nectar resources by providing a hummingbird feeder.

To make artificial nectar, use four parts water to one part table sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey, or fruit juices. Place something red on the feeder. Clean your feeder with hot soapy water at least twice a week to keep it free of mold.

Butterflies need resources other than nectar.

They are attracted to unsavory foodstuffs, such as moist animal droppings, urine and rotting fruits. Try putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water to see which butterflies come to investigate.

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