Countryside Corner; Neighborly Garden News
Will Cities Become the New Refuge for Bees?
Recent studies from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and the University of Michigan, Flint, are highlighting the decline of bee populations in rural and suburban areas; as urban bees are expanding. Some of the known hazards to bees in the urban environment include: increased infestation from parasites, more competition for food, less desirable food-sources, and lastly; undocumented pesticide usage. Despite these obstacles to survival, results from the field studies at Lurie Garden in Chicago, Illinois have found not only have native bees colonized the pollinator gardens installed there, but they have also discovered new native bees, never before found in Illinois on the green-roof garden.
Proceedings from the National Academy of Science has observed that during the years 2008-2013 the abundance of bees in the USA decreased most sharply in the midwest corn belt, and throughout California’s central valley; home to some of the most intensive agricultural farming in our country. They conclude by stating the primary cause of the decline was loss of natural habitat, more than pesticide use or climate change. Landscapes that are planted with a single crop (monoculture) like corn or wheat for endless acres, offer little or no habitat for bees. Some bees will feed off a number of plant species. Other species of bees are very specific to certain plants, and if it isn’t available, they will die out. In a meadow environment, with hundreds of species of plants, there will be an almost continual cycle of bloom of different flowers. A monoculture crop will only have one bloom period, over a few short weeks.
As cities become outposts, surrounded by less hospitable suburban and rural landscapes, more attention should be paid for designing with pollinators in mind. This concept is becoming more mainstream, as evidenced by the very public meadows that surround the Olympic park in London. The landscape planting there was designed with the future of Britain’s pollinator population in mind. The design for Lurie Park tries to replicate a near wild prairie habitat.
Fun fact; bees have been found to be flourishing in so-called ‘shrinking cities’ like Detroit and Cleveland due to their abundance of vacant lots. These wild areas offer a lot of diversity, and no one is spraying them with pesticides.
The ugly flip side of planting exotic plants is that they also may be unintentionally favoring exotic non-native bees also. There are about 41 species of non-native bees present in the North America. One, Osmia Taurus, the Japanese mason bee, is poised to potentially out-compete our native blue orchard mason bee; which is an important pollinator of apple and cherry trees. Non-native honeybees will overwhelm and out-compete other native bees in the area of its hive. The take-away from this is we must recognize and support efforts to design and create pollinator friendly zones around, and throughout our cities. We must educate and legislate to try and re-populate areas that have shown such significant declines in bee population. It could be a simple as devoting the edges of fields to wildflowers or wild hedgerows. But can we be forceful enough to ban the most dangerous pesticides? Will we have the courage to limit the endless development that is fracturing open spaces, and destroying habitat? My hope is yes to all those questions.
July’s ‘to-do’ list:
According to Drought.gov, almost 75% of our state is ‘abnormally dry’. Recent rains have helped, but we still remain far below typical levels of soil moisture. Let’s hope we don’t see a return to the ‘severe drought’ conditions we had only a short time ago. It is critical for the long term health of recently (within the last three years) planted trees and shrubs to have consistent water during their active growth cycle. Frequently the damage incurred from drought stress to plants does not appear for one or two growing seasons; usually when the weakened tree or shrub can’t fend off an attack from some pathogen. Please start watering your new/newer trees and shrubs, as needed.
Remove spent blooms from your flower garden. Leaving the dead flowers promotes grey mold, aka botrytis, which colonizes dead and decaying plant tissue.
Massachusetts has pollinators aplenty, but they need our help!
When we think about pollinators, bees and butterflies immediately come to mind. You may not know that other animals and insects have a hand in pollinating, and many are represented here in MA.
Honeybees are not native to the US, but still play a huge role in commercial pollination. Our most familiar native bee is the bumble bee (family Bombus). A bumble bee likes to feed on clover; you can help them by planting a patch of clover; both red and white clover will grow in our region. Other types of MA bees are carpenter bees, (family Xylocopa) sweat bees (family Halictidae) and mining bees (family Andrenidae). Most of the lesser known bees are not at all aggressive, and rarely ever sting. Wasps are also considered pollinators, not as efficient as the bee, but they will transport pollen as they visit flowers to feed on nectar. A wasp’s larger benefit is their constant hunting for insect prey, which helps keep insect populations in check.
A butterfly is considered second only to the bee in its pollinating efficiency, but did you know that moths also pollinate plants, but mainly at night. A moth’s hairy body contributes to its pollinating ability. Moths out-number the population of butterflies, and are also further divided into their own sub-order, Frenatae. Planting a ‘moon garden’ of white and light colored fragrant flowers will help attract moths. Moths particularly favor tubular flowers, like Nicotiana, Petunia, Calibrachoa, Moonflower, Phlox, and Hosta.
Hummingbirds are the primary bird species for pollination in the US. In our area the native hummingbird is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These busy, tiny birds, transfer pollen as it sticks to their face-feathers and beak. They are attracted to brightly colored, nodding, tubular flowers. They love Lantanas, Salvias, Phlox, Columbine, Honeysuckles, and Cardinal flower, to name a few. If you plant groups of these flowers, they will visit your garden frequently, and you need not bother with a fancy feeder.
Certain animals and insects have perfected the art of mimicry as a survival tactic. Two flies native to MA have that mastered, and I would challenge the casual observer to tell them apart from their ‘real’ counterparts. The Flower fly mimics a wasp (family Syrphidae) so it will look scary and not get eaten. The Bee fly (family Bombyliidae) looks just like a bumble bee, and probably fools its predators most of the time. Both mimics are fuzzy enough insects to do a decent job transferring pollen, even without the pollen carrying leg baskets that real bees have.
Beetles are some of our planet’s oldest known pollinators. Their remains have been found preserved with the flowers and pollen they lived on millions of years ago. It seems reasonable that beetles would prefer to pollinate the living descendants of ancient plant species. In Massachusetts beetles are responsible for pollinating native Magnolias, and the yellow-flowered water lily; they will also pollinate Sassafras, Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba), and Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus floridus).
Creating a haven for pollinator’s means planning for a more diverse yard. Planting native flowers and trees and shrubs, in addition to your imported plants, will attract a wider group of pollinators. Try to leave a portion of your outdoor space a little wild; for the wildlife. Let us make this our new mantra- “Leave it wild, for the Wildlife”.
Creating a moon garden has two benefits, the same plans that will attract butterflies by day, will also lure moths at night. In choosing flowers, look for simple, single flowered shapes. The fully double varieties of some flowers make it very difficult for most pollinators to access the pollen and nectar. Here are a few ideas for flowers and shrubs that will beckon night visitors:
Hydrangea quercifolia, and Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, The Oakleaf, and Climbing hydrangeas provide both nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies and moths. The Oakleaf hydrangea, has stunningly beautiful leaves, in addition to creamy white flowers, and will develop good purple fall leaf color. Climbing hydrangea can transform a wall or fence into a living lace curtain, when in bloom. Fall color is a golden yellow. Oakleaf Hydrangea will tolerate part shade, but will also thrive in full sun once established. Standard sized varieties can grow up to 15’ x 15’; compact types will stay at 4’ tall. Climbing Hydrangeas require sturdy, permanent support, and will grow up to 30’ tall. Like most hydrangeas, they like a full to partly sunny light exposure.
Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, is a misunderstood plant. When it is in bloom, it is very charming; having a tropical look that is very endearing to me. But if you don’t keep a firm hand on its growth it can become ratty looking in a few seasons. Because it blooms on new growth, it responds very well to hard pruning early each summer. By cutting out the skinny, twiggy branches, you will stimulate new vigorous shoots. Don’t baby this plant. Prefers full sun, but will tolerate light shade; grows 8-10’ tall x 6’ wide.
Achillea ‘Moondust’, Yarrow is a new compact version of an old garden reliable. The hundreds of tiny flowers provide a perfect landing pad for butterflies and moths. The foliage is a true silvery grey; the creamy pale yellow flowers will glow as evening fades. Yarrow needs full sun, and is drought tolerant. Grows 14” tall x 14” wide.
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Lustre’, is a white flowered (purple) coneflower. As easy to grow as it’s purple colored cousin. There have been many new introductions to the Echinacea family, but the simple, single flowered forms are the best for pollinators. If you study the architecture of an Echinacea, you will see it is actually comprised of hundreds of tiny individual flowers in the center of each flower. Exactly the shape members of Lepidoptera prefer to feed on. Prefers full sun to light shade; grows up to 4’ tall x 2’ wide.
Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Only the Lonely’, flowering tobacco; you’d have to grow it if not for the name alone, right? No night garden would be complete without the heady perfume of night blooming Nicotiana. This towering member of the nightshade family develops 4-5’ tall bloom spikes held like candelabras above the lime green foliage. Each tubular flower can be up to 30” long, beckoning some lucky moth for a sweet drink. ‘Only the Lonely’ Nicotiana will grow in full sun to partial shade, and prefers moist soil.