As the heat sets in and our early spring flowers fade and give way to summer blooms and vegetable gardens, you might have pollination on your mind. If not, maybe you should! Simply put, pollination is the transfer of pollen from one flower to another flower of the same species. Flowers need to be pollinated to complete their life cycle by producing fruit and setting seed. This is particularly important if you’re growing fruits and vegetables, but also important at a much larger scale for nuts, ornamentals, native plants, oils, fibers and raw materials. For the past four years, Governors Hickenlooper and now Polis have signed a proclamation designating June as Colorado Pollinator Month, helping bring awareness to the important work that pollinators do.
As you’re out tending your plants and garden beds, take a moment to notice the visitors that appear at the flowers. There are many animal and insect pollinators, but the most common and most efficient are bees. Most people are familiar with honey bees which hail from Europe, but few realize that we have over 950 species native to Colorado alone! There are more than 3,500 species in the U.S., and it is estimated that there are 20,000+ bee species worldwide. There are so many different species that come in all different sizes and colors that they are often overlooked and/or people don’t realize they are bees. An important thing to note is that most native bees don’t sting. You may have had a green metallic sweat bee land on your arm looking for a salty snack (yes, your sweat) and not thought twice about it.
Most native bees are solitary. A single female will create her nest, lay eggs along with provisions for each and move on. Whereas honey bees are eusocial, forming large colonies of tens of thousands of individual bees who all work together. Each honey bee has a specific job within the hive and the larvae are carefully tended by the adult bees. Most native bees make their nests below ground in tunnels, but many make their nests in cavities. Knowing this makes it easier to create habitat for these little friends of the garden. Habitat loss is one of the three main issues that pollinators face today and one that gardeners can have a big impact on. (The others are climate change and anthropic activity.)
Beyond just providing food (flowers for nectar (carbs) and pollen (protein)) you can provide shelter and water which completes the habitat and will make your garden more attractive for them to move in and stay awhile.
For the cavity nesters you can include a snag (old wood stump or branch) in your landscape or you can build or buy a bee condo. For the ground nesters you can leave areas of sunny, undisturbed ground that will be inviting for them to create their underground tunnels and nests. Keep an eye out for small holes in your soil, it might be the entrance to a bee’s home!
At the CSU Extension Boulder County office in Longmont we are working to increase pollinator habitat by planting more demonstration gardens. Come by and take look! As gardeners who depend on the ecosystem service that bees and other important pollinators provide, we need to raise our awareness, and help to conserve and create habitat whenever possible. They are our modest companions in the gardens, and when provided with a little food and shelter, they will work tirelessly with us, and our gardens will be all the better for it.
For more information on how to create habitat in your own yard check out the CSU Extension website and reference fact sheets 5.616 and 5.615.
By Deryn Davidson. Deryn is an Extension Agent – Horticulture at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information contact CSU Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6386, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit boulder.extension.colostate.edu.