Minutes July 15 — Pollinator-Friendly Gardening

GEG meeting 071517

Gardeners Exchange Group Meeting 15 July 2017
Location: Home of Priscilla Deem
Topic: Pollinator-Friendly Gardening, presented by Dr. Larry Stritch
Submitted by Julie Neely, GEG Secretary

The meeting was held at the home and garden of Priscilla Deem. Priscilla has a beautiful garden and home full of fascinating collectibles. The Carnival memorabilia was collected by Priscilla’s family members who worked in the Carnival industry.

Jane began the meeting with a few administrative remarks:

  • The Gardeners Exchange Group continues to look for volunteers for the following: the planning committee (once a year meeting), someone to act as an assistant to Jane, someone to help place the GEG signage and someone to bring the “breakfast box” ( coffee pot, utensils, etc.) to the meeting location. Please contact Jane Blash if you are interested.
  • Renny Smith has free, bagged, composted horse manure — contact Renny for details.
  • The new Shepherdstown Library is tentatively scheduled to begin construction near the Clarion Hotel in 2018. They are still looking for donations.
  • Low and high tunnel and hoop house construction ideas were discussed. It was suggested that grants may be available for personal home tunnel construction through the WV Agricultural Extension Service.
  • A gardenside chat and potluck will be hosted by the WV Master Gardeners on August 31 from 3-5 pm. The Master Gardeners website will have details and contact information.
  • The tri-state Native Plants Conference is coming up — check the Master Gardeners website for details.

Intro to the Speaker — Dr. Larry Stritch

Dr Stritch retired in March of 2016 from the U.S. Forest Service where he served for over thirty years; the last eighteen of which as the National Botanist.

Pollinators — Why We Need Them, Who They Are, and What They Eat

GEG meeting 071517The lecture began with a warning, “Pollinators are in trouble, from colony collapse disorders to diseases of bumble bees, their numbers are declining. We as gardeners must try to do what we can to help them increase in number and health.

Many plants require pollinators to reproduce although some are self-pollinating. Self-pollinating plants are able to reproduce an exact genetic clone of themselves when pollen is transferred from that plants’ anthers to the same plants’ stigma. This can be accomplished by a pollinating insect. Cross pollination occurs in some plants when pollen from one plant’s anthers is transferred to another plants’ stigma creating genetic diversity.

Bees, including all sorts of bumble bees as well as honey bees, moths, flies, butterflies, wasps, and even birds can act as pollinators. In general the hairier the insect the better the pollen will stick and transfer between reproductive parts of plants. Although pollen can stick to the mouth parts of butterflies, they are not the best pollinators because they have smooth bodies. Moths, being very hairy, are great pollinators. Night or dusk blooming flowers such as four-o-clocks, summer phlox, evening primrose, and cleome are attractive to moths. Bumble bees are the first pollinators to emerge each year in late February. The only food available to the newly emerged queen at that time is pollen from red and silver maple trees. She uses this to prepare a pollen cake, the size of a loaf of bread, into which she deposits her eggs which starts the bumble bee life cycle. Wasps such as paper wasps which are non-hunting, non-carnivorous wasps are great pollinators. Birds and hummingbirds are good pollinators. Hummingbirds feed on tubular shaped flowers such as agastache and hostas.

Pollinator-friendly Practices

Pollinators need food, water and shelter.

  1. Dr. Strich explained how to build a bumble bee condo by drilling various diameter holes (less than 1/2 inch diameter) 6 inches deep into the end of a cut log.
  2. Ground nesting bees do not dig through mulch so Dr. Strich recommended providing a bed of sand mulch, 5 inches deep in a sunny garden for them to nest. (Remember, ground nesting bees and wasps are not hornets. Hornets can be aggressive.)
  3. Bare soil, even without the sand mulch, is a good nesting site for leaf cutter and mason bees.
  4. Large piles of dead branches and debris provide a habitat for cocoons and protection from predators.
  5. Uncut grassy areas, especially the hollow grass stems, provide habitat and protection.
  6. Pieces of dead wood provide shelter and habitat and can be hidden in your flower beds or used as border edging.
  7. Think about incorporating plants into your garden that provide blooms from March until November. Asters are an example of late season bloomers.
  8. When planting, consider what the larval forms will eat; for example, milkweed feeds larval Monarch butterflies
  9. Try to incorporate plants and flowers with various colors, shapes, and season of bloom. Use as many native plants as possible. Dr. Stritch recommended the combination of bottle gentian and rudbekia.
  10. Plant your flowers in compact sweeps and drifts — pollinators don’t like to fly long distances between plants and flowers – keep the flower groupings together.
  11. Sometimes plants and pollinators co-evolve such as the South Carolina blueberry bee. This bee lives only two weeks, exactly during the bloom period of the blueberry, which relies on this bee for pollination.
  12. Creating a prairie meadow is a nice idea but will take at least three years to get fully established.
  13. To attract pollinators don’t waste your time on “non-pollen” plants that have no anthers, are labelled “improved or hybrid,” have lots of fluffy petals but no nectar. Dr. Strich showed the example of a beautiful looking fancy white trillium – pretty, but not helpful to pollinators.
  14. If you must use pesticides — use only organic pesticides. Remember pesticides kill pollinators also. Organic solutions include neem oil and hand-picking and drowning pests in soapy water.
  15. Milky spore to kill Japanese beetles will work in your yard, but other beetles will come in from your neighbors’ yards. An example of repeated trapping and daily dumping the pheromone traps for at least 6 weeks was said to work for several years. Eventually the beetles returned. Remember, the beetles are self-limited and the foliage will regrow. If beetles are devouring your raspberries, Dr. Strich recommended building a closed hoop house to keep all pollinators and beetles out. This works because raspberries are self-pollinating. Hoop houses will also protect broccoli and cauliflower.
  16. Remember that ‘big box plant’s are frequently raised with systemic pesticides and are probably poisonous to pollinators. Try to find out if the source of the plant is an organic grower.
  17. Birds eat pests also. For example, a baby chickadee eats 400 insect larvae a day.