Walks in my pollinator garden are always “I Spy” adventures. I’m tracking which pollinators are using the plants, flowers, and extra water and food resources I’ve provided. These include two hummingbird feeders. A few days ago another group of “I spy” eyes locked onto the feeders . . . honey bees. Maybe they’re from a wild colony or domesticated bees from a neighbor’s box. Either way, a scout made it back to the hive to do its boogie, woogie, waggle dance and map out the way to a sugar fest in my yard.
HONEY BEES & SEASON’S END
End of summer through fall is a transition time for the garden, and that’s what the pollinators are telling me. All of them are busier. For the honey bees, it’s crunch time. They are desperate to store enough food in their colonies for the flowerless winter months ahead. In summer’s peak, one hive supports between 30,000 and 80,000 bees. A single honey bee visits about 9 flowers a minute and a hive needs thousands of flower visits a day to stay in business.
Luckily, honey bees can, and do, forage up to 8000 acres (32 sq km). While my yard may look productive, it’s not enough to support the native pollinators (bumble and other native bees, hover flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds) when honey bee needs are added. To the honey bees my hummingbird feeders are a chance to party. For me, it’s time to regroup, rethink, and prepare for next year.
STRATEGIES AND FALL ACTIVITIES
1) Hummingbirds won’t challenge a mess of bees or wasps at feeders. Changing to feeders built to keep bee tongues from getting to nectar should discourage them. Without a meal, the honey bees and wasps should look further into their territory. They may just be thirsty. Put out shallow water-filled bowls with pebbles as landing spots so they don’t drown while drinking.
2) Plan for and plant more perennial, native plants, spring to fall bloomers. This won’t solve the current (maybe even long-term) shortage, but the more plants, especially natives, the better.
3) My “I Spy” garden treks and the sunny days remind me to keep the hummingbird feeders spotless. I’m most comfortable changing the food every few days, cleaning thoroughly every time, including wiping drips from the outside surfaces. I add only the amount of nectar the birds use in a couple of days. Read the Audubon Society’s hummingbird feeder recommendations for using and cleaning feeders.
4) Deadhead and water plants to keep them producing, and refill any shallow containers with clean water for bees and birds.
5) Leave the leaf piles. Beneficial and some pest insects overwinter in them and may already be there. The good ones will prey on the bad ones spring and summer. All will help feed next year’s baby birds. No insects, no birds.
HOW TO FIND NATIVE PLANTS IN MY AREA THAT SUPPORT POLLINATORS?
Selecting and Buying (Don’t take wild plants or their seeds from private property without permission, and never from state and federal lands without a permit.)
Native plants historically adapted to your area are the best support you can give native pollinators. I use the plant identification and planting guides below to help select local natives. Check your area’s nurseries first. If they don’t carry what you want, ask if they can special order. Is there is a specialized native plant nursery nearby? The Pollinator Partnership has lists of native plant nurseries in the U.S. and Canada.
The Pollinator Partnership also provides plant information for the U.S. and Canada through searches sorted by zip and postal codes. Pollinator Partnership planting guides outline the plants’ bloom seasons, flower colors, soil, light, and water needs, and what pollinators each species attracts. Here in California, Calscape also offers native plant search by zip code. Note: not every native plant offers food for pollinators, but enriching the local ecosystem strengthens the web of life. Everything benefits.
Encourage neighbors, family, and friends to plant for pollinators and beneficial insects. Working together, neighborhoods can become vital pollinator-friendly, life-support corridors.
PLEASE REMEMBER: Pollinators, beneficial insects, birds, and pesticides do not mix.
DID YOU KNOW?
Flies can pollinate, too. Some play important pest control roles in gardens, orchards, and farms. The California coast has over 300 species of syrphid (aka “hover” or “flower”) flies. Here are just two from my garden.
Adults need pollen from wildflowers, grasses, or weeds to produce eggs. One syrhpid fly larva can devour over 500 hundred aphids, thrips, and scale insects during its growth stage. Most syrphid fly species spend the winter under leaf litter, so leave a pile.
Put on your I Spy eyes and let me know which pollinators are using your garden and where you are.
Have a great Fall!