Gardening for pollinators
Five simple steps you can take to do your bit to save our bees
Erin Jo Tiedeken & Úna FitzPatrick, National Biodiversity Data Centre, Waterford
We need pollinators to grow many of the fruits and vegetables that make up a balanced diet. In fact without pollinators, it would be impossible to grow some of our favourite foods in our own gardens. Pollinators also contribute at least €53 million annually to the economy in the Republic of Ireland through their role in crop production. In Northern Ireland, the value of pollinators to apple crops alone is over £7 million per annum. Finally, most of the colourful wildflowers that provide beauty in our landscape require pollinators.
Unfortunately pollinators are in decline. Bees are our most important pollinators, and nearly one third of Ireland’s 98 bee species are threatened with extinction. Last September 68 governmental and nongovernmental organisations, North and South, came together to address this issue and publish the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020. The Pollinator Plan is a shared plan of action that will help make all types of land more pollinator friendly.
In order to support gardeners that want to do something to help pollinators, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan has released a set of guidelines called “Gardens: Actions to Help Pollinators.” The guidelines provide 20 low or no cost actions that can be taken in gardens of all types to help provide pollinators with the resources they need. Like humans, pollinators need two main things to survive: food and a safe place to life. Bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers, and they nest in areas like long grass, hedgerows, earth banks or dry stone walls. The best gardens will have several kinds of pollinator friendly plants flowering the whole time pollinators are active, from March all the way through to October.
If you want to take action in your garden, here are five pollinator friendly actions from the Garden Guidelines suitable for almost any space:
1.) Leave patches or strips of longer grass in your garden (Action 4)
Leaving some small patches/strips of long grass along the edges of a fence or hedgerow will provide more wildflowers like Dandelion, Clovers and Bird’s foot trefoil. Although we often think of these wildflowers as weeds, they provide vital food for pollinators.
2.) Plant a pollinator friendly window box or hanging basket (Action 6)
Many of the plants often planted in containers (e.g. Geraniums, Begonias, Petunias) are of little value to pollinators. Try mixing in some pollinator friendly plants that do well in containers, like Wallflower, Bellflower, Verbena, Cosmos and Alyssum ‘Sweet White.’
3.) Eliminate pesticide use (Actions 12-14)
Pesticides can harm pollinators directly or indirectly by reducing the amount of available food (flowers).
4.) Share what you learn with the next generation (Action 16)
Download the Junior Version of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan from our website to get the whole family involved.
5.) Exchange pollinator friendly plants (Action 17)
Plants and seeds can be expensive, but many pollinator friendly species can be divided, or new plants can be grown from cuttings. Lavender, Salvia, Thyme, Viper’s Bugloss and Willow are all great for pollinators and easy to exchange.
For more information and resources, visit the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan website. The implementation of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is being coordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and funded by The Heritage Council, Bord Bía and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There is lots of practical guidance available including information for community groups http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/projects/irish-pollinator-initiative/all-ireland-pollinator-plan/local-communities/