Meeting Minutes, April 20,2014


FLBC April meeting: Janet Allen, pollinator gardens

April 20, 2014

Notes by Ellie Andrews


Pollination basics, why are pollinators important

One out of every three bites of food we owe to pollinators.

There are different degrees of pollination: bees must visit multiple times (it’s not simply that a plant is pollinated or not).  Even self-pollinating crops (e.g., tomatoes) need to be shaken by the wind or bees.  A midge pollinates chocolate!

Key for fiber plants as well as food.

Bees are a keystone species (the survival of lots of other species depends on them) and an indicator species (e.g., a canary in a coalmine).

LOTS of pollinators: bats, other mammals, etc.  Bees are the most important, however.

Flower constancy — focus on one kind of flower at a time, providing cross-pollination.

Over 2 million hives needed for almond pollination in the US – requires about half the hives in the US.  Can’t stay after the bloom.  Managed agricultural situation.

Not always known that bees were pollinators.  Growers thought they were stealing pollen.

In Utah, they outlawed bees in the early 1900s!

Honey bees not the most efficient pollinators.  Blue orchard bees better, for example.

200,000 other pollinating insects

Bumblebees: special ‘buzz’ pollination, shaking pollen out — 47 different types in the US

Some bumblebees are endangered, nearly gone.  Much worse off than honey bees.

Domesticated bees compete with native bees.

Bumblebees – among the first active in the spring and last in the fall.   Active early in the morning, too – so spraying in early in the day will still affect them, even though morning spraying is recommended for protecting honey bees.

A thick coat of paint should protect wood from carpenter bees. Aluminum to protect fascia.

Orchard mason bees – fast and effective, visit lots of flowers a day.  250 of them equal to the work of over 20,000 honey bees.  Can buy orchard mason bee houses.

Squash bees – great pollinators

Some native bees are small, can’t carry much pollen – but there so many of them that they have a big impact, e.g., sweat bees, flower flies.


What’s the problem?

CCD in the headlines, but it’s more than just honey bees that are having problems

Biggest general threat to our food supply

We’ve put all our pollination eggs in one honey bee basket.  We need more baskets.

Not just one single factor, but lots: habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation, pesticides, parasites, climate change, light pollution, etc. etc.

Habitat degradation: we lose 2 million acres a year.  LAWNS… We’ve “neatened” our environment based on some compulsion to be neat, raking and bagging leaf litter, etc.  We rake everything up and then buy mulch!!  Lack of borders, hedgerows in crops. Even roadsides, parks are neatened.  Fragmentation into little patches.

Pesticides: 50,000 bumblebees sprayed in a parking lot last summer with a pesticide.

Chemicals absorbed into plant tissue, long-lasting, can be present in the nectar and pollen. Sub-lethal effects, too.  Field-level doses reduce the amount of pollen bumblebees are able to collect, the size they can grow.

Exotic diseases: Bumblebees used in greenhouses.  Xerxes wants to ban/regulate their transportation.  Could be competing with other bee populations, bringing new non-native ones to new places.

Climate change: we used to be a Zone 4B, now we’re 6 (warmer).  Ecological mismatch between flowers blooming and emergence of bees.  Especially with the nocturnal pollinators – may be affected by light pollution.

Bee paranoia: people kill them, afraid of them!  Most solitary bees don’t defend their hives.


How can communities help?

Provide bee real estate as a community!  Roadside sites are great.

Ask local maintenance crews to delay mowing.

Plant areas between sidewalk and the road.

Bee City USA (Asheville NC the first) – making cities bee-friendly.

Bee-friendly projects in Guelph, Canada.   Large-scale pollinator parks, small-scale gardens.


What about us, as gardeners?

Suburban/urban gardens a crucial link – we’re in a great position to help!

Providing flowers, nesting places/shelter in a pesticide-free yard.  It’s not hard…

Native plants really important; I once watched a butterfly go from native to native to native.

Often people will plant lots of plants – begonias, impatiens, salvia, etc. – that’s not what they need.  Even commonly recommended plants

Recent study compared so-called “bee friendly plants,” e.g. alyssum from catalogs — not any better than just grasses or anything.  Native plants 4x more attractive to native bees.

Bees see things differently (UV) – as we breed/choose cultivars, those cultivars’ qualities might change visually and we wouldn’t even know! What we select for (prettiness) has consequences.

People seem to want new, spectacular cultivars: “nativars” – but they may or may not have any of the important habitat properties.

Heirlooms can be useful if they’re not too doubled.

Herbs, too – not native, but bees like them.

Bottom line: strive for at least 75% native plants.  Hard to get all natives, since you’ve probably started with something else.  In masses – lots of flowers in one area.  The shorter the distance between them, the more efficiently pollinators can forage.  Different colors.

Plant diversity and pollinator diversity (different tongue sizes, etc.) go hand in hand.

Plants (different shapes, colors, sizes) for different pollinators (with different tongues, etc.)

Mountain mint for intense mint odor: pycnanthemums like pycnanthemum muticum.

Anise hyssop – smells like minty licorice.  They love it.

Sunflowers (although they make pollen-less sunflowers, an abomination), tomatoes – yellow flowers, winterberry, pagoda dogwood, Canadian burnet, native iris, flowering raspberry – they love it, sisyrinchium, liatris, native roses, impatiens (if you have one, you’ll have a lot) – hummingbirds love it, New England aster, elderberry

A minimum of three kinds of flower for each season:

Spring: redbuds, pussywillows

Summer: milkweed for monarchs and pollinators, Joe Pye weeds, echinaceas, New Jersey tea

Fall: woodland sunflower, goldenrods (different kinds) – they don’t cause allergies (intuitively, only wind-pollinated plants need to produce lots of windborne pollen).  Fall most important for their winter survival.


Provide habitat

For ground-nesting bees: leave snags/dead trees, buy commercial varieties, make them.

Log piles, hedgerows

Pesticide free yard – not good for kids either!

Some of the ground-nesting ones prefer North-facing slopes


Camera, lenses for Jan Allen’s presentation

Canon Powershot; Nikon D40 with kit lens, macro lens; Nikon D5100 and D5200

Lenses: 7300 lens, 105mm macro lens, 18-200 middle lens



Best way to learn is to observe…

Citizen science easier with a smartphone!

Bee Smart app at – download for free

Xerxes project – Bumble Bee Watch – guide you to identification.  Attempt to get a census.

Great Sunflower Project (Xerxes) “Learn and Resources” section for a pdf – bumblebee plants suitable for the Northeast, chapter of a national organization called Wild Ones.  Sign up for newsletter.

Pollinator week, June 16 – be an advocate!

Monarch watch – register your monarch waystation

Attracting Native Pollinators (Xerxes book) (Patricia Allen’s website) (her husband’s website)

Finger Lakes Native Plant Society



How to find a balance between deer and pollinators?

Don Leopold, Native Plants of the Northeast: has a list of deer-resistant plants.


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