A golden monarch butterfly stopping on a bush, a hummingbird sucking from a flower…a view that everyone would love to see. The good news is, we can turn a yard into a pollinator friendly garden and enjoy such a view often. Pollinators play a vital role for the eco-system, and for us humans, yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years. We can do something now to help slow or stop the decline. Here, by looking at the garden as an example, we can show that in 3 steps, a space without any pollinator can become one full of it within just 2 years.
Step 1: shrink down or remove the lawn
After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown. The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore and have something beautiful. They wanted a garden with lots flowers, a garden that would bloom year round. When they heard that such a conversion would also allow them to receive the Landscape Conversion Rebate, they decided to take on the project.
To replace a lawn makes sense, as it needs a lot of water. A converted landscape can save water by 30-80%. in addition, a lawn does not have the different colors and flowers that pollinators need, so it can hardly be a habitat.
Step 2: Put in plants that sport bright blossom
During the design process, plants were carefully selected to have bright blossom, and would bloom for a long time. Luckily, many of the drought tolerant plants meeting the requirements of the rebate program can fit the bill very well. There were a lot to choose from. Plants like Statice, Cherry Sage, Cone Flower, Lion’s Tail were all good candidates.
The project started, very quickly a floral garden was installed.
Step 3: Wait for the blossom, and pollinators follow
The plants grew quickly. After just a couple months, in early spring, some plants already grew to a point where they bloomed.
After just a year, the garden was in full bloom. A dream was fulfilled:
Sure enough, some small visitors came.:
This humming bird really craved the flower. It worked on every single petal:
In just 3 steps , a little a space without any pollinator became this magnet that attracted all types and many of them.
Another garden: same transformation
This garden also went from a lawn without pollinator to one with a lot. The garden was designed to be a California native plants garden, so more native plants were chosen.
One of the plant selected was Matilijia Poppy. This is a big California native, once a contender for the California state flower. This is how it looks like in the field:
Planted in the garden:
In the first summer after planting, it grew its first flower:
After another year, it grew into this full bush with its big white flowers.
Sure enough, bees came to visit:
Another California native chosen was the California Golden Poppy, also favorite for the bees:
At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted to have what was out there:
Both gardens showed to us, that by replacing lawns with landscapes of nectar plants, the pollinators would love them and come. We could provide a habitat to them from our own yards.
A serious issue – decline of pollinators
Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans.
When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits. The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive.
For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops. According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops.
Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction. The culprit? while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons.
According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):
- “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
- Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”
The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017. It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species.
In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as:
“Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment”
According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ” Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out; Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one. According to Climate Central:
“the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate.
Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.”
The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly. According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.”
One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do, is to build more habitats for the pollinators. It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.
Big tech putting native plants on their campuses
In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators.
At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants.
The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love.
At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants. Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer.
The bee is busy feeding on nectar
Here is a parking lot on the campus. A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot.
More plants, more pollinators
While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants and other nectar plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators badly need for their survival and thrive. Let’s act today and build a garden friendly for pollinator.