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Celebrate National Pollinator Week by planting in clusters

June 17 to 23 is National Pollinator Week when we celebrate insects and animals that help produce $29 billion worth of food, including apples, nuts and tomatoes. And then there are the flowers.

A native bumble bee forages for pollen and nectar on a spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The big worry in this natural cooperative are the bees, which are threatened  by mites, pesticides and loss of habitat. Indiana has at least 400 species of bees that work the Hoosier landscape. What can we do as gardeners? It helps to know a little bit about bee behavior.

Bees practice floral fidelity. That means that on any given foraging trip, they visit only one species of flower, said Denise Ellsworth, program director of Ohio State University’s Honey Bee and Native Pollinator Education at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster.

For instance, the bees leave their hive and collect pollen and nectar from a stand of salvia and only the salvia. The bees return to the hive, deposit their harvest, head out and visit coneflowers and only coneflowers.

By contrast, butterflies flit from cosmos to lily to milkweed, or species to species.

This practice of bee floral fidelity is a guide to how we should plant our gardens, Ellsworth told a group of garden writers last month at Secrest.

Don’t plant onesies, such as a coneflower in the backyard and one in the front. Instead, plant the same flowers in clumps or clusters so a bee doesn’t have to work too hard to collect the goodies.

Use native plants. Bees, birds and other pollinators are hard wired to seek out native plants. All plants don’t have to be native, but be sure to have a good number in the mix.

Avoid using pesticides. If you must, don’t use them when flowers are open or bees are present. Know what you have before you treat it and always read and follow the label directions.

 

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