Since 2006, the U.S. has noted up to a 40% decline in the population of pollinator insects such as bees and butterflies. This is due to several key factors, such as climate change, the destruction of their habitats, and the use of large-scale farming techniques which utilize strong herbicides and pesticides. Neonicotinoids are a popular pesticide that work systemically to get rid of insects, meaning that any plants that are exposed to them excrete moisture and pollen that can contain these harmful pesticides. This means that not only will a single pollinating bee pick up and possibly be harmed by these pesticides, but they can also carry them back to their hive where the neonicotinoids can harm the rest of their colony.
Pollinators such as bees and butterflies are much more important than you may be aware. Without them, three quarters of our produce would cease to exist. The plant and animal life that we know today would be considerably less varied, and the produce that we would be left with would need to be pollinated by hand–a tedious and time consuming process that would require workers, increasing food production costs everywhere. (Granted, someone invented robot bees, which can be sent out in swarms to pollinate, but they can’t make honey, and they don’t do the little bee dances, and well–it just wouldn’t be the same, would it? I’m worried about the emerging notion that we can replace nature with robots and technology, but that’s for another article.)
How can you help nature’s pollinators?
Luckily, there is plenty that you can do, and a lot of it won’t take much effort! In fact, some things will mean less work for you!
First of all–I know this is going to break your hearts, because I just know how much y’all love weeding–stop weeding! Stop pulling and poisoning the weeds, especially dandelions. Dandelions usually start appearing right after bees and butterflies come out of hibernation, and are the first meal they have. That first meal of dandelion nectar keeps them from starving to death before their other food plants start waking up. SO LEAVE THE DANDELIONS ALONE! (Sorry about raising my voice there. It’s just that important.)
If you must mow, set the blade high enough to miss the dandelion blossoms. They love clover, too, so the same goes for it, if you’re lucky enough to have some.
Want a legitimate excuse to not rake the leaves in the fall? Leaves create food and a habitat for butterfly larvae. The fallen leaves also build and enrich the soil. So STOP raking the leaves! Just leave them alone and let nature take care of it. (Besides, what would autumn be without the crunching of leaves underfoot?)
These things are great, because not only are you helping pollinators and the environment, but look at the work it saves you!
(Just in case you haven’t realized this yet, I’ll take a second to point it out to you: For this to work, you’re going to have to get past the notion that everything must be so-so. Life isn’t meant to be so-so, everything perfect. It’s meant to be adventurous, exciting, surprising, and full of wonder. So if you’re hung up on perfect, try to get over it–at least a little bit. Do it for the bees and the butterflies. Do it for life. Please?)
What else can you do for the bees and the butterflies? Make an amazing garden in your backyard. Create a safe habitat for them.
When creating this garden, try to pick a place as far from vehicle traffic as possible. Cars are deadly things for these tiny creatures, so roadside–especially in high traffic areas–is not a good choice. And the faster the traffic, the more dangerous the spot. So a small neighborhood street with a speed limit of 25 mph isn’t going to be as deadly as a main thoroughfare or highway.
Buy plants that are native to the area, and buy them from local growers. This rule should also be applied to buying produce and honey. Local growers tend to care more about environmentally safe practices, and you’re also helping to support local businesses. You can find safe grower directories online if you do a quick search. It should also be noted that commercial nurseries such as Home Depot and Lowes are starting to do their part in terms of managing the spread of neonicotinoids. Both are now labeling all plants that have been exposed to neonicotinoids, and Lowes is even taking steps towards phasing them out completely.
If you are having trouble finding a quality selection of plants that are totally free of harmful pesticides, you can still create that beautiful garden. Perennial plants that have been exposed to neonicotinoids will only retain the poisons the first year or two after planting. Remove the blooms the first two years, and then they should be fine for pollinators after that. In order to keep the bees and butterflies safe until then, snip the flower buds as soon as they start to appear, before the blooms open.
Obviously, you’ll want to select plants that appeal to bees and butterflies and their larvae. Butterflies and their larvae enjoy Blackeyed Susan and milkweed. Bees and butterflies would also be quite pleased to snack on hawthorne, laurel, honeysuckle, lilac, rosemary, lavender, fuchsia, and hydrangeas. Make sure that you get a mix of perennial and annual plants with varying bloom times. Keeping it varied will ensure that there is something for all the pollinators to munch, no matter what time of year it is. You’ll find more ideas in the list of resources below.
Be sure to check the Action Calendar (see the menu at top of the page) every month to see what you can work into your schedule to help save our essential little critters–for our sakes as well as theirs.
Here’s more information about attracting pollinators and creating a healthy habitat for them:
- Attracting Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Other Pollinators–5 techniques for backyard gardeners
- 8 Ways to Attract Bees and Butterflies–Be a good neighbor to struggling pollinators by turning your outdoor space into a safe haven.
- Plants That Attract Butterflies–Old Farmer’s Almanac
- Helping the Bees and the Butterflies–Old Farmer’s Almanac
- Plant Milkweed for Monarchs–Monarch Joint Venture
Free milkweed seeds:
- Article: How to Buy Milkweed Plants
- Sources for Plants:
- How to attract bees & butterflies to your garden–Cherry Lane Garden Center
- How to Encourage Bees into your Garden–Alan Titchmarsh’s Summer Garden
- Ten Commandments of Butterfly Gardening
- How to Create Your Own Monarch Butterfly Rest Stop | National Geographic
- Growing Milkweed for Monarchs
- Planting Milkweed Part 1 – Collecting Seeds (Help The Monarch Butterfly)
- Planting Milkweed Part 2 – Sprouting & Growth (Help The Monarch Butterfly)
- Planting Milkweed Part 3 – Ready To Transfer (Help The Monarch Butterfly)
- Planting Milkweed Part 4 – Banding Pods & Harvest (Help The Monarch Butterfly)
- Raising Monarchs – Encouraged Egg Laying (How To Have Monarch Butterflies Lay Eggs)
- Raising Monarchs Part 1 – Finding Eggs (How To Find Monarch Butterfly Eggs)
- Raising Monarchs Part 2 – Hatching Eggs (How To Hatch Monarch Eggs)
- Raising Monarchs Part 3 – Caring For Caterpillars (How To Raise Caterpillars)
- Raising Monarchs Part 4 – The Chrysalis (How To Care For Monarch Butterfly Chrysalides)
- Raising Monarchs Part 5 – Releasing Adults (How To Raise Monarch Butterflies)
- Greenpeace–Save the Bees
- Save the Honey Bees
- Live Monarch
- Monarch Watch
- Save Our Monarchs
- Save the Butterflies — (info about butterfly host plants for various butterfly species)
Want to do still more? Check out this list:
- Sign petitions to do away with the use of neonicotinoids in commercial farming. Lobby for change.
- “Adopt a hive” –join a program and donate money towards the care of a local beehive. OR rent a hive–“babysit” a hive brought to your property by a local beekeeper. Find out more:
- Adopt A Beehive — Save A Beekeeper?
- Adopt-a-Hive or Rent-a-Hive Program–Birds and Bees Farm (This farm serves locally, but gives a good description of the programs. Your local program may vary from this somewhat. Find out what’s available in your area by contacting your local beekeeping group. Find a local group by clicking the link below.)
- Find a local beekeeper (in US and Canada)
- Educate yourself and others.
- Don’t be afraid of bees when you see them. There is no reason to be afraid of pollinators. Bees only try to sting when they feel threatened, especially since honeybees die when they sting!
Want to get even deeper into this? Look at what I found:
- How To Start A Butterfly Farm or Butterfly Business
- Want to become a beekeeper?
- American Beekeeping Federation
- On YouTube, just put “beekeeping” in the search bar; you aren’t going to believe everything that comes up!
Finally, don’t forget that to save the bees and butterflies, everyone has to do their part. These are some of the things that you can do to ensure that we protect our pollinators. But knowing what to do isn’t enough. We have to act! If we all put in just a little bit of effort, then perhaps we can restore the pollinator population to its former glory. We can support them in many ways. We can work together to stop the use of neonicotinoids in large-scale farming. You can make a difference. Help save the pollinators. They need us! Their lives depend on us–and ours on them! It’s a win-win-win. (The environment wins, too.)