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Pollinators are more than bees

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Q. We need to pollinate our garden. We had lots of blooms this summer, but very little fruit and not a bee in sight. What do we do?

Dominic from Boardman

A. Vegetables are pollinated in different ways. Some plants like corn are pollinated by air. Others like pumpkins, cucumbers and peppers usually require pollen that is carried by an insect.

So pollinators are needed to produce a crop in most cases. In fact, 75 percent of plant species require pollen to be carried to them.

But pollinators are much more than honey bees. The popular honey bees are not native to North America. Honey bees were brought by settlers for crop pollination, as well as wax and honey production. Pollinators can be all sorts of insects and animals. Flies, moths, butterflies, beetles, ants, birds and mammals are all pollinators for vegetable crops. So gardeners need to look at a variety of insects and animals in the garden area to ensure pollination will occur.

The vegetable garden, surrounding flower gardens and the surrounding ecosystem must provide an environment where pollinators will thrive throughout the vegetable production season. Our grandmothers knew what they were doing when they planted a row of flowers in the garden. It wasn’t just for enjoyment or just for cut flowers. It was to attract pollinators to the garden to, in turn, improve production of plants they depended on for feeding their families.

Planting native plants will help encourage native pollinators and help keep native bees in the area to help with pollination in Dominic’s vegetable garden. This includes a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. In addition, growing a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the growing season will support lots of different pollinators that can be a benefit to the pollination of vegetable crops.

Nonnative plants will work, but in order to do this, plants must have pollen and nectar to attract pollinators. Gardeners should choose plants they know offer rewards to pollinators in order to get rewards from their vegetable plants.

Complete details about pollination and planning garden areas to attract native pollinators are available at go.osu.edu/attractingpollinators.

Make plans now to encourage pollinators in all of your garden areas.

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.