Bring more winged guests to your garden
Let's talk about birds and bees. Not that conversation; instead, we're buzzing about bringing more winged guests to our gardens.
The surest way to get them to visit more often: Plant flowers they like. Invite some butterflies, too, and other beneficial insects. Make it a wildlife garden party.
These guests not only entertain us with their beauty and aerial antics, but they do a lot of work -- making fruits and vegetables. They're the key to a bountiful backyard harvest.
Pollinator-friendly gardens are the way to go. The idea is to make your garden a nature sanctuary, providing the kind of plants and food that birds, bees and other beneficial insects need to survive and thrive.
"Plants are the basis for animal diversity in nature and in the garden," explained Ellen Zagory, the University of California, Davis, Arboretum's horticulture director. "Plants provide food and shelter for many creatures, some so small as to never be noticed but that are the foundation of the food supply for the rest of us.
"Native insects -- those creepy, crawly critters that make us squeamish when encountered in the garden -- have an important role in the natural world around us," she added. "They provide fruit by transferring nutritious yellow pollen from flower to flower, the process called pollination."
The three B's -- birds, bees and beneficials -- have been challenged by urban expansion; they don't eat concrete. Without them, we don't eat.
Said Zagory, "Insect pollinators sustain our wildlands, provide dependable harvests of fruits and vegetables for our tables and feed many of the smaller creatures around us -- especially the birds so treasured for beautiful song and flashes of color in our gardens."
Being a "green" gardener means giving nature a helping hand.
"'Green' gardeners -- those who wish to become more sustainable -- now have an important environmental role to play," Zagory said. "If enough of us select the right plants to supplement what we grow, we can provide food for insect pollinators. Pollinators can be beautiful butterflies, bee-mimic hoverflies, entertaining bumblebees or tiny, non-stinging wasps. But the most important group -- and hardest-working for crop pollination -- is the bees."
But in recent years, bees have been particularly challenged. Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, a mysterious threat to honeybee populations, has researchers focusing more on native bees as an alternative for crop pollination.
"Here at the Bee Lab in Logan, Utah, we have been working to find alternative pollinators for almonds, raspberries, alfalfa and other crop production using native bees," said Bryan Love from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pollinating Insect Research Unit.
"We've also brought native plants into agricultural production to provide better habitat and food sources for the native-bee populations."
Understanding bees helps us help them.
"The European honeybee (which collects pollen to make honey in its hive) is the most common bee we see in our gardens," Zagory said. "Native bees are very different, often not social and living in large groups but instead living a solitary existence and nesting in plants or in the ground. They come in an amazing variety of sizes and colors, from the golden, male carpenter 'wooly bear' bee, to the iridescent green sweat bee, a tiny flying jewel."
Native plants attract native bees. That's key to a bee-friendly sustainable landscape.
"These fascinating native bees provide ecological services to us and our gardens, and they now need us to help them," Zagory said. "Planting plants that have lots of nectar and pollen in their flowers is like putting seed in a bird feeder. If you plant (the right plants), they will come."
Contact Debbie Arrington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.