Spring Into Action – Pollinators

Spring Into Action – Pollinators

How often do we stop to think of the importance of pollinators to food security?

Pollination is often described as the transfer of pollen grains from the anther to the stigma of a flowering plant. These transfers are made possible due to pollinator visits in exchange of pollen and nectar from the plants.

Who are our pollinators?

Main Global Pollinators

Social                                                                           Solitary

Honeybees                                                                  Alfalfa leafcutter bee

Bumble bees                                                               Mason bees

Stingless bees                                                             Other leafcutter bees

How can we care for pollinators?

We can care for our pollinators by growing plants that have abundant and accessible pollen and nectar.

Choose plants with flat flowers or short to medium-length flowers tubes (corollas), and limit plants with long flower tubes such as honey suckle.

Avoid plant varieties that do not provide floral rewards (pollen), which is the essential food source for bees. (e.g., some sunflower, and lilies).

While we think of most flies as pests, garden flies, such as Allograpta obliqua species found in Florida, are excellent pollinators and insect predators. Photo by Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient, Bugwood.org.

While we think of most flies as pests, garden flies, such as Allograpta obliqua species found in Florida, are excellent pollinators and insect predators. Photo by Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient, Bugwood.org.

Many native wild bees have relatively short proboscises, or tongues, and may not be able to access nectar from flowers with long tubes; however, flowers with long floral tubes can attract other pollinators with long tongues or beaks such as butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

Are we creating an ecosystem aesthetically pleasing while attracting pollinators?

UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones

The planting of native wildflowers in Florida can benefit agricultural producers likewise, native pollinators and other beneficial such as parasitoids and predators.

Some of the main benefits of growing native wildflower are:

  • Increasing wild bee presence in the surroundings
  • Providing nesting and foraging sites for pollinators, butterflies, bees etc.
  • Increasing natural enemies of pest insects.

It is important to select mix varieties of native wildflowers when restoring habitats for our pollinators. Mix varieties will flower all year round and make available a continuous supply of nectar and pollen. If possible, use wildflower seeds that are produced in the state that you want to carry out pollinator restoration. It is highly likely that one will experience better growth from locally produced seeds because they will adapt better to regional growing conditions and the climate.  For optimum flowering and high production of floral rewards such as pollen and nectar, place wildflowers in areas free of pesticides and soil disturbance.

Most bee species are solitary, and 70% of these solitary bees’ nest in the ground.  A wildflower area of refuge can fulfill the shelter resource needs of these bees since that area will not undergo regular tilling, thus minimizing nest disturbance.

For some common native wildflowers of north Florida, you can see: Common Native Wildflowers of North Florida by Jeffrey G. Norcini : https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP061/EP061-15448828.pdf and Attracting Native Bees to Your Florida Landscape 1 Rachel E. Mallinger, Wayne Hobbs, Anne Yasalonis, and Gary Knox: IN125500.pdf (ufl.edu)

Pollinator Gardening – Tips for Apartment Living

Article written by Khadejah Scott, Horticulture/Agriculture/Natural Resources Agent – UF/IFAS Extension at Wakulla County.

Gardening for pollinators is not only beneficial for the environment, but it can also be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby. However, living in an apartment can pose a challenge for those who want to create a pollinator-friendly garden. But fear not! With a little bit of creativity and effort, you can still create a welcoming space for pollinators to thrive. Check out these tips to encourage pollinators at your apartment.

Choose Your Location

The balcony is the obvious first choice for your apartment pollinator garden. Alternatively, if your building has a roof, porch, terrace, or courtyard, check to see if you can use those spaces for a few plants.

Assess Your Size And Space

The majority of apartment dwellers value their available space strongly. Finding space for just you and your possessions, much less a garden can be difficult. But even the smallest areas have the potential to turn into green havens with a little imagination. Make sure your space gets adequate sunlight and is close to a source for watering.

Select Your Plant Types

One way to start your garden is by choosing the right plants. Diversity is the key to a good pollinator garden. Because each pollinator has its techniques for sourcing nectar and pollen, flowers should be as varied as the pollinators that visit them. Native plants such as Gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella) are an excellent option as they provide food and shelter for local pollinators. Together with native plants, you may also grow annual ornamental flowers in smaller gardens that will thrive and provide an excellent source of nectar and pollen, like zinnias (Zinnia elegans),  or sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). Another best option is also to use culinary herbs. For instance, basil (Ocimum basilicum) and oregano (Origanum vulgareare) are fantastic nectar sources if you allow them to flower. One creative way to create a pollinator-friendly garden is by incorporating a variety of textures and colors. This can include adding different heights, shapes, and textures to your garden, as well as incorporating a variety of flower colors. You can also choose plants that bloom at different times of the year to ensure a consistent food source. This will attract a wide range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Sunflowers can be grown from seed and provide food for birds. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

Plant in Containers

Another important aspect to consider is the type of containers you will use for your plants. You can use anything from traditional pots to repurposed containers like old tires or wooden boxes. Just make sure that your containers have proper drainage and are large enough to accommodate your plants. Plants such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Blazing Star (Liatris spp.), and Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) do well in containers.

Think Vertically

In a small area, vines can significantly expand the habitat that is available by climbing up a trellis or lattice against a wall or fence. Numerous native vines such as the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) can go in large containers and are excellent sources of nectar and pollen for pollinators.

Include Bird Feeders And Bird Houses

An enjoyable way to observe birds up close and get in touch with nature is using bird feeders. Additionally, they enhance the natural food sources that birds can find near your garden. Bird houses also provide shelter to cavity-nesting species and increase the species of birds at your apartment. 

A hummingbird gathering nectar from a firespike (Odontonemastrictum) flower. Photo Credit: Knolllandscapindesign.com

Finally, make sure to supply a source of water for your pollinators. This can be as simple as a shallow dish or bowl filled with water or a small fountain. Just be sure to change the water regularly to prevent mosquito breeding.

Creating a pollinator-friendly garden in an apartment is not only possible but can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. By following the tips above, you can create a welcoming environment for local pollinators to thrive. For questions about pollinators for apartment living, contact your county UF/IFAS Extension Office.

No Mow March Winning Photo

No Mow March Winning Photo

An activity during our No Mow March campaign was for participants to document flowers and pollinators from their landscapes. This activity was available through an INaturalist group specific to No Mow March. Although we only had 13 participants, they made 85 observations representing 50 species of plants and insects.

The photo that was selected as the favorite is the Clasping Venus’s Looking Glass, Triodanis perfoliate, by Martha W. This was around the Tallahassee, FL area. Martha received an electric edger, battery, and charger.

We hope to have more participants in our photo collection next year as we observe the plants and pollinators visiting our landscapes when we don’t mow.

Clasping Venus Looking class. Photo by Martha W.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Pollinators

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Pollinators

Wildflowers. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones, University of Florida/IFAS

To celebrate “No Mow March”, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE was all about pollinators. “No Mow March” was inspired by “No Mow May” events that were originally organized in Great Britain then adapted by some of our more northern states. Lawns in the panhandle definitely need to be mowed in May, so we set our sights on March.

Most warm season turfgrass species don’t grow much (or at all) in March, but some people may feel the need to mow their lawns. If you feel the need to mow, we recommend you leave the borders of your lawn or a small area un-mowed. This will encourage flowering plants to bloom and bring more pollinators to your yard.

Butterflies are loved by many for their beauty, but they also pollinate a lot of our favorite plants. To encourage butterflies to visit your garden, try planting some things they like to eat. The publication “Butterfly Gardening in Florida” provides lots of information about bringing butterflies to your yard. Be sure to check out the tables in the article for information on seasons and life cycles. If butterflies aren’t your thing, then search for plants by pollinator species in this webpage on Nectar Plants. Some plants have Extrafoliar Nectaries to attract a diversity of insects.

If you’re interested in anything about any insect, then you’ll enjoy the Featured Creatures website. You can search by species name or by what they like to eat.

Not all bees live in hives. Some bees, like mason bees, prefer to live in above ground “houses” or “hotels”. You can build your own pollinator hotel if you follow the simple steps found in the article “Build Your Own Pollinator Hotel”. And here’s even more information on “gardening for bees”.

Not all pollinators are bees or butterflies or insects at all. Learn about all sorts of pollinators in the article “Pollinators: It’s Not All About the Bees”. Some of the best avian pollinators are hummingbirds.

Some of us live in the woods and need suggestions on shade loving plants. The article “Landscaping in the Shade” provides some good information on what plants can handle shady spots. A number of different ornamental gingers like the shade.

Turfgrass isn’t the only groundcover on the market. There are lots of alternatives like frogfruit and perennial peanut that attract pollinators.

What better way is there to attract native pollinators than to plant native plants?! Here’s a series of articles on native plants. If butterflies are what you’re after, then (native) milkweed is your plant of choice.

Some plants just like to be around each other. More information on companion planting can be found in the article “One Secret to “Organic” Gardening. Companion Planting”.

If you’re interested in being a part of “No Mow March”, the first step is to sign the pledge at go.ufl.edu/NoMowMarch. Also, be sure to record your “No Mow March” observations at iNaturalist.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.

Pollinators…Under Your Feet?

Pollinators…Under Your Feet?

Every spring, a certain type of pollinator is busy in the yards and landscapes of our area. It may be alarming to see small piles of soil mounded up amidst carefully tended grass, but there is no need for concern. In fact, quite the opposite! The creatures making those mounds are bees, but they’re not the type that want to sting you. Instead, they’re harmless, solitary pollinators who just want a safe place to lay their eggs.

Miner bee burrows. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
Miner bee burrows. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

It’s easy to confuse a bee digging in the lawn or landscape for a yellowjacket and become alarmed. Yellowjackets are very different; they form hives underground consisting of hundreds or even thousands of individual hornets. Miner bees, on the other hand, each dig their own small burrow. Each miner bee is looking for the same sort of place to build a little hidey hole, so many individuals might be attracted to an area with prime real estate, so to speak. This can lead to large numbers of mounds in close proximity to one another, but again, there is no reason to be alarmed.

A miner bee. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
A miner bee. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Each female bee will dig a vertical tunnel up to a foot and a half deep, then make side chambers lined with waterproof material. She stocks each chamber with pollen and nectar, then lays her eggs. Larvae remain in the ground until the following spring. When they emerge as adults, they start the whole process over again.

It is important to understand and protect pollinators such as the miner bee, because they all provide a valuable service to the environment. Pollinators ensure that all the plants around us can reproduce, by carrying genetic material from one flower to another. You can help these little messengers in their task by learning about their habits and making a little room for them in your landscape. When you see these small mounds of soil in your yard, don’t worry! The bees will do their job and the next rain will likely wash away the soil.

Consider attracting other pollinators as well! Plant flowers that attract native pollinators, or leave an area of your landscape “wild”. Let dead plant stalks remain over the winter as nesting sites for pollinators, or try letting a patch of native wildflowers escape mowing for some time in the spring.

For more information, there are plenty of publications out there:

Miner Bee, Chimney Bee

Attracting Native Bees to Your Landscape

Gardening for Bees

Pollinator Hotels

or contact your local Extension office for questions and more information!

Importance and Types of Pollinators – Did You Know?

Importance and Types of Pollinators – Did You Know?

Do you enjoy a tasty bowl of fruit in the morning? Or maybe a hot steaming cup of coffee? If the answer is yes, then raise (or tip) your hat to our pollinators. About 75% of food crops depend on pollination to some extent, but pollinators provide the bulk of the pollination for over 80% of the world’s flowering plants. A pollinator can be birds, bats, or even small mammals but, insects such as ants, bees, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and moths do the bulk of the pollination that affects our daily lives.

Plants normally benefits from attracting a particular type of pollinator to their flowers, ensuring transfer and hopefully resulting in reproduction. The pollinator benefits from its adaptation of a particular flower with different traits to access nectar and pollen. These floral traits include odor, color, size, flower shape, reward type, amount, nectar composition, and timing of flowering. This plant pollinator interaction is known as pollination syndrome.

Did you know ­–

  • That tubular red flowers with a lot of nectar often attract birds.
  • Also, foul smelling flowers attract carrion flies or beetles.
  • Butterflies and moths can help spread pollen; however, they don’t have any specialized structures for collecting pollen.
  • Beetles pollinate more than 80% of all flowers – clusters of flowers are ideal because beetles are clumsy fliers.
  • While bees are drawn to plants on the blue, white, purple, and yellow color spectrum. Bees possessing hairs and other specialized anatomical structures that can readily collect and transfer pollen, making them an important plant pollinator. However, the honey bee, (Apis spp.) is the world’s top pollinator and is responsible for one-third of what we eat, yet they are just a small representative of all the bee species.
UF/IFAS Photo: Rodger Evans
Honey bee on Sweet Alyssum.
FAMU/UF/IFAS Photo: Donna Arnold

Did you Know-

Everyone can contribute to pollinators by creating a home garden. Pollinators will make use of food and habitat anywhere it is found – roadsides, open fields, pastures, backyard flower gardens etc. One can be pollinator friendly by doing any of the activities below:

  • Plant an assortment of plants – varying in color, size and type to support a greater number and diversity of pollinators. 
  • Plant native plants – as they are considered the best choice due to their abundance of nectar and pollen, among other benefits.
  • Use little or no pesticides – instead maintain a sustainable garden with the suitable plant species that will support natural beneficial insects—reducing the need for pest control.
  • Educate others about the importance of pollinators.
  • Seasonal planting – Choose pollinator plants that bloom in spring, summer, and fall. Timing is crucial – plant flowers in clumps that bloom in early spring (emerging winter hibernation) and late summer (preparing for hibernation) so bees have adequate food supply.
  • Provide habitat or install bat boxes. Bats play a vital role in pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds.
UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones

Helpful Hint: Did you know dandelions are the first food for bees emerging in the spring. Leave them in your yard and feed the bees!

For more information, please contact your local county extension office or visit the following websites: Pollination – UF/IFAS Extension (ufl.edu); WEC247/UW291: Conservation of Bats in Florida (ufl.edu); https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/pollination/; https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasotaco/2022/09/14/pollinators-its-not-all-about-the-bees/; and https://www.usda.gov/peoples-garden/pollinators.