By Linda C. Dolak
OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer
What is the first thing many people do when they spot a bee? Run, step on it, and spray it with an insect killer!
We need to remember that bees are very important to our environment, flower gardens and vegetable gardens.
Most of us think of the honey bee when we think of bees. However, there are actually more than 400 species of bees in the United States.
They come in many shapes and sizes and often are found around native plants, trees, shrubs and flower gardens.
Each species chooses its own environment.
Bees are the most common pollinators.
Pollinators help plants make fruit or seeds by moving pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another part. This process fertilizes the flower. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and/or seeds.
Without the pollinators, many plants cannot reproduce.
Bees, however, are not the only pollinators.
Birds, mammals, flies, beetles, insects and moths are included in this category.
More than 85 percent of our world’s flowering plants and more than two-thirds of the world’s crops depend on these pollinators.
There are more then 100,000 species of pollinators that do the work for us. They are responsible for an estimated value of $18 billion to $27 billion in the United States alone.
Pollinators also are credited with keeping a balance in the environment by providing seeds and fruits that feed everything from songbirds to black bears.
Pollinators search for two things when they search a garden. The nectar and pollen they find in blooming plants gives them necessary carbohydrates and protein needed to flourish and produce their offspring.
Therefore, what we need to do is plan their meals.
We should provide blooms in our gardens from the beginning of spring through fall by providing a large variety of flowering plants.
Those plants that bloom very early or very late in the season are extremely important sources of food for the pollinators because there are few other resources during these times.
Planting both annuals and perennials provides important sources.
Many of these plants can be pruned or dead-headed (cutting off the spent blooms) to encourage re-blooming.
Dense, double-headed plants are not preferable because it is difficult for the pollinators to reach the nectar and pollen.
Several other plants that normally are not used by pollinators are roses and azaleas.
Plants should not bloom at the same time and should be of different heights.
Think about where you will place your bulbs, herbs and annuals to improve food sources for the insects throughout the season. This will not only benefit the pollinators, but will also increase your enjoyment.
Gardeners should limit insecticide use, and if necessary, apply when plants are now in bloom and when pollinators are not in the area.
There are “green products” available that are more fit for the environment, but some of these may be harmful to pollinators.
Always follow the instructions on the product label and never spray open blooms.
For more information and help in choosing your plants and flowers, as well as identification of pollinators, go to http://go.osu.edu/pollinatorpower.