A Pollinator Summer: Caring for garden pollinators

By Katie Nichols

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— Just because it is summer, doesn’t mean gardeners should forget about the pollinators. Even during the hot days of summer, these critters are hard at work. It is up to gardeners to make sure these pollinators have what they need to do their jobs.

Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said there are several ways to ensure pollinators are active in a growing space. By simply observing a garden or flowerbed for a short period of time, people can determine whether pollinators are—or are not—present.

Carroll said pollinators are like humans. These insects need three major things: food, water and shelter. Gardeners often forget different pollinators are present at different times throughout the year. Also, pollinators do not feed on the same thing repetitively and prefer an assortment of foods.  Incorporating a variety of flowers and herbs can help provide pollinators with options to keep them coming back to the garden for more.

Different Types of Pollinators

“Everyone is familiar with honeybees as pollinators,” Carroll said. “But, if you don’t live next door to a beekeeper, there are other native pollinators gardens can attract.”

There are thousands of pollinators regularly contributing to garden pollination. Squash bees, sweat bees, leaf cutter bees, bats and butterflies all play a small role in the fruitfulness of productive gardens. Many native bees, aside from honeybees and bumble bees, can pollinate the plants that are not self-pollinating and require assistance to bear fruit.

While there are plants that are totally dependent on pollinators–such as cucumbers of the cucurbit family–there are also self-pollinated plants, such as tomatoes. Each of these benefit from pollinator activity. The buzzing vibration helps shake pollen loose for tomatoes, while the cucurbit family relies fully on the services of a pollinator to carry pollen and bear fruit.

Controlling Pests

One of the larger aspects to carefully consider is pesticide use. Carroll said there are times when pesticide use can be helpful, but as most gardeners know, it can also be harmful. Monitoring the crop is an easy way to determine a good time for application. When flowers are open and pollinators are out, refrain from using pesticides. Pollinators are generally inactive at night making it a good time to apply chemicals.

There are also several easy ways to get rid of pests without using pesticides.

“Monitoring is a very effective way to determine whether to use a pesticide,” Carroll said. “If there are only two aphids, it is very likely that native beneficial insects will take care of the problem. With pests like the tomato hornworm, simply picking the worm off of the plant is an easy and effective way to protect the crop.”

Late Summer Care for Garden Pollinators

When caring for garden pollinators during the summer, Carroll said it all comes back to the necessities—food, water and shelter.

“Alabama has been known to face drier than usual weather pattern during the hot, summer months,” she said. “It is important to remember that bees need water too.”

Providing a water source is a good way to care for garden pollinators during the hot summer. Carroll said a birth bath or shallow pan filled with water will work well.

“Add a few rocks to provide a landing pad for the bees to perch on,” she said. “Just remember to change the water a couple of times per week to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.”

More Information

Find more information on gardens and garden pollinators by visiting the Alabama Extension website www.aces.edu.

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