In recent years there has been an increased awareness in the rapidly declining population of bees and other pollinating insects. The importance of pollinators to everyday life can be overwhelming to truly comprehend but they play a crucial role in our day to day lives.
A pollinator will transfer pollen from the anthers to the stigma of a flower, enabling the flower to set seed and fruit (fertilisation) and, through cross-fertilisation they play an important role in maintaining plant diversity. Insects pollinate 80% of all plant species in Europe, including most fruits, many vegetables and some bio-fuel crops.
What insects are our best pollinators?
Pollinating insects include different species of bees, hover flies, beetles, flies, butterflies and moths.
What would happen if we continue to see a decline in our pollinators?
Without pollinators, crops would not grow and many fruits and vegetables would become scarce or absurdly expensive. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, strawberries and pears are all pollinator-dependent fruits that could suddenly disappear from our diets. Even crops that don’t require pollination are often found to have higher yields when visited by bees or other pollinators. Other essential products affected by pollinators include coffee, chocolate, vanilla ice-cream (!) and even clothing (cotton is pollinated by bees).
As well as being crucial in the production of food, pollinators are a key symbol in the natural world. They are vital in creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter.
What are the main contributors to this continuing decline?
Loss of habitat, climate change, the incorrect use of pesticides and diseases are all factors that have affected the populations of pollinating insects. As a result of these declines, gardens are becoming increasingly important green spaces that can provide havens of nectar and pollen for visiting insects.
What can we do in our garden to help?
By creating bee friendly spaces within our gardens we can help support vulnerable populations, while enjoying better harvests. Pollinating insects require two things in order to survive: Food (nectar and pollen) and Shelter.
Bees and other pollinators need the right type of flowers to obtain pollen and nectar. Opt for single flowers over intricate double flower heads (e.g. double cactus dahlias) that can be inaccessible for pollinators to reach the nectar. Other flowers may also be unsuitable as they have undergone selective breeding by breeders to achieve the best appearance but will produce little or no pollen or nectar. Bedding plants such as pansies, double begonias and petunias look great but do not offer any food for pollinators.
The key to maintaining a good population of pollinators within your garden is to plan for a succession of flowers. By providing a constant supply of pollen and nectar for pollinators to feed on you’ll keep them on site all year round. Native wild flowers and many of the traditional ‘cottage garden’ style plants are ideal choices for pollinators. Don’t just stick to perennials, a wide range of trees and shrubs also make great choices and attract a wide range of insects.
Plants that are the best for bees by season
Plants that bloom early in the year and throughout spring will offer food for bees and other pollinators emerging from hibernation. Suitable plants include hawthorn, fruit blossom (apples, cherries and plums), Aquilegia, Bergenia, Erysimum and Pieris.
Excellent summer bloomers include Achillea, Buddleja, Campanula, Calendula, Cosmos, Digitalis, Geranium, Lavender, Lavatera, Scabious and Verbena.
Towards the end of the year make sure there are plenty of late season flowers available such as Asters, Echinacea, Hebes, Sedums and common Ivy.
These are just some of the many pollinator friendly plants we have available. For a full and detailed list of ideal plants for pollinators see the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list www.rhs.org.uk/perfectforpollinators.
Build a bug hotel!
Allowing a small patch of your garden to grow a little wilder if a great way to provide additional food sources and shelter for insects. Allow some weeds to flourish and allow your grass to grow longer. Bug hotels, log piles and leaf litter provides perfect breeding and nesting spots for insects, ensuring they remain in your garden year round.
You don’t need a lot of space to start a pollinator garden. Even a few containers on a balcony can attract a huge amount of pollinators and every little thing you can do to help the decline in pollinators will help!