Landscaping for Our Friends the Bees, Butterflies and Beneficial Insects
By Nancy Popa, Extension Master Gardener
As lawns and hardscapes have increased, sources of nectar, pollen and shelter for bees, butterflies and beneficial insects (BBBI) have decreased, causing stress on these important insects (our friends). Our own yards can be an important source of nectar, pollen and shelter for BBBI if their needs are taken into account.
We have all seen entire neighborhoods of perfectly manicured lawns. Even if this landscape is aesthetic, it is unnatural and it does not support a healthy ecosystem. Your neighbors may object, depending upon where you live, but consider adding plants to your lawn like clover, black medic and even dandelions to provide nectar and pollen for BBBI. An even better idea is to shrink the lawn and add flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, which provide many benefits beyond what a lawn provides such as decreased use of fertilizer and herbicides, shade for home cooling, deep roots with filtration capabilities and of course, beauty. When you do this, make sure that you select plants that provide the nutrition and pollen needed by BBBI. Native plants are a great way to assure that the plants you have planted will provide the nutrition need by our native BBBI. When selecting plants always go by the scientific name, as common names are often confusing. For instance red salvia, the popular annual bedding plant, is not highly attractive to bees but blue salvia (Salvia farinacea), and several types of perennial salvia (Salvia nemorosa) have allure. Useful information about native plants can be found at Michigan State University Native Plants and Beneficial Insects website: www.nativeplants.msu.edu.
It is important to provide nectar and pollen throughout the year. Observe your yard and add plants that flower in the months when you have no flowers. If you were to plant Golden Alexander (Aizia aurea), Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fructose), Cup Plant (Silphium perfolatium) and Riddel’s Goldenrod (Salidago ridellii), you would be providing rich sources of nectar and pollen for BBBI in the months of June, July, August and September, respectively. When garden beds are designed, color, height and bloom time are usually considered. Think about adding a fourth dimension to your design criteria—importance to BBBI health.
Maintaining a healthy landscape will minimize the need for pesticides that have detrimental effects on BBBI. Planting the “right plant in the right place” is the first step to keeping a plant strong and resistant to infestation. The soil pH, soil type, sunlight and moisture are critical to strong plants. When selecting plants and trees, choose species that are not susceptible to disease and pests that will require control with insecticides and fungicides in order to remain healthy. Ash, elm, spruce and euonymus and examples of problem species.
It is never too late to get rid of bad performers and replace them with plants that the BBBIs will love.
Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the US North Central Region. MSU Extension Bulletin E3314.
Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants. MSU Extension, Fiedler, Tuell, Isaacs, Landis