How to Please a Pollinator

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Creating a pollinator habitat in your yard can easily be done if you keep these four things in mind:
1.  Plant Nectar and Host pollen-rich plants – this is the most important step for planting a pollinator-friendly garden.  Choose nectar and host plants, with emphasis on native wildflowers.  A succession of blooming annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees is best so nectar and pollen is available throughout the growing season.  Plants like dill, fennel and milkweed are caterpillars host plants. Research at the University of Iowa has shown that the diversity of plant nectar offered in the garden is more important than garden size.  Try to have at least 9 different species of plants, with 3 blooming in each growing season, whether your garden is in containers on the porch, or many acres.
2.  Go Organic – Most pesticides, even organic ones, are toxic to all pollinators.  Short term, pesticides may eliminate the annoying pest or plant, but they also kill the beneficial organisms.  Long term, pesticide use exposes you, family, pets, and wildlife to toxic chemicals, and risks disrupting the natural ecosystem.  An organic approach is both safe and more effective.  If you do need to apply pesticides make sure you apply them carefully and selectively, always following the instructions.  To protect pollinators, do not use pesticides on open blossoms or when bees or other pollinators are present.
3.  Provide Shelter and Overwintering Sites – Pollinators need shelter to hide from predators, get out of the elements, and rear their young.  Find a section on your property that you can leave alone.  Pollinators thrive on benign neglect.  Identify a small place that you can let grow wild and not touch.  Let a pile of grass cuttings or a log decompose in a sunny place on the ground.  Or allow a dead tree (snag) to stand to create nooks for butterflies and solitary bees.  Nesting boxes can help increase pollinator population.  Mason Bee houses and bat boxes attract and provide year-round protection and nesting for these pollinators.
4.  Provide Water – A pollinator habitat will provide nectar and host plants for insects, but you may want to add special feeders to attract hummingbirds and support butterflies.  Particularly when nectar plants aren't blooming, a shallow saucer with rotten fruit (ex: bananas, blueberries), will attract both butterflies and bees.  A shallow bubbler on a flat stone provides a safe place to rest.  Something as simple as a shallow muddy puddle will supply salts and nutrients as well as water.
Incorporate these four elements, and you will have a pollinator friendly habitat. 
If our community can provide a patchwork of pollinator habitats throughout our neighborhoods, businesses, city, and county, we can all contribute to restoring healthy communities of beneficial insects and pollinators.  For more questions on planting for pollinators, call the Linn County Master Gardener hortline at 319-447-0647.

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