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Protect Our Pollinators

It’s Easy Being Green, Just Say No

Return to Environment articles.

By Dennis L. Patton, M.S., County Horticulture Agent, K-State Research and Extension/Johnson County

Bee on peony“Protect our pollinators!” has become a mantra in the gardening world. Lead by the work of Monarch Watch, Xerces Society and several other organizations, the message is reaching the masses. That message is we must do more to protect and grow the much needed population of pollinators that fertilize a large number of our food crops and other plants for a healthier environment.
I often get asked, “What I can do to help?” One message that has hit home is plant more milkweed. While that is a nice start there is so much more that can be done with a little or no work. It all starts like most things and that is with a simple change in our behavior. One way to think about it is in term of the old “just say no” drug campaign.

Both chemical and organic pesticides kill
Bumble Bee MimicFirst, just say no to using pesticides. Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides can all impact the population. Insecticides are the main ones used as these kill insects. But many of our pollinators are insects. Most insecticides on the market are broad spectrum. That means they can control a wide range of pest. They kill both the bad along with the good insects.
Keep in mind it is not just chemical pesticides but also organic products kill the beneficial pollinators. Reducing the use of pesticides does not just mean chemicals but also organic products. Remember to just say no to spraying any pesticide in the garden unless the plant life is threatened. Then maybe a wisely timed application correctly applied could be made.
Reduce the need for pesticides — plant plants that add value
White Sphinx MothAnother great trick to help the pollinators is to just say no to planting plants that have known issues that may require a pesticide application. The simplest way to reduce the use is by not ever having the need to use them. While there is no perfect plant and every plant has some pest issues there are some that are more damaging than others.  
An example would be our current issue with the Emerald Ash Borer. Granted ash trees were popular and recommended prior to this exotic insect’s arrival but are the insecticide applications necessary? In some cases yes but probably not to the extent that many trees are being treated. The chemicals used to control EAB also kill beneficial insects that feed on the tree.
When selecting plants that have fewer issues it is important to ask yourself about their value as a host for our wide range of beneficial insects and pollinators. One popular push has been to plant more natives as they tend to be better host plants for local pollinators. While there are many landscape-worthy natives there are other plants that can help make up a diverse landscape. They can create a habitat for a wider range of insects as well as help to create a more natural, balanced landscape that has fewer problems which would require less pesticide application.
Grow your tolerance and reject perfection
Tobacco Horn WormTolerance is also a good virtue to adopt when striving to help our pollinator population. Accepting the fact that a plant does not have to be perfect gives us that assurance that we don’t always need to spray something on it to make it healthier or more beautiful. A few holes, leaf spots or other damage is rarely life threatening to a plant and causes little harm. Just be tolerant and let nature run its course. Most plants are more resilient than we give them credit. Just as we get a few zits, pimples or blemishes so do plants, and we all go on to live a good life.
Say no to preventative pesticide applications
This also means just say no to scheduled preventative pesticide applications. These comments will make a few in the green industry unhappy but there is no need to have scheduled pesticide treatments that blanket spray all plant materials to help prevent some potential out break from happening. This includes all these preventatives for insects, disease and, yes, even mosquitoes. These applications are only effective if the pest is present and the populations are great enough to be life threatening to the plant. Remember these applications kill the beneficial insects as well as the bad.
These are just a few tips to get you thinking about what you can do in your own backyard to join the growing call to protect the pollinators. These are little steps that require little effort. It does cause you to stop and think a little harder about the effect of your choices. But many times the simple answer is to just say no.

  • Say no to unnecessary applications of pesticides.
  • Say no to perfection.
  • Say no to poor plant choices.

Once you do it will be easy to just say yes to a more diverse insect population, more pollinators, and a beautiful and healthy landscape.

Other Resources

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Phone: (913) 715-7050

Email: garden.help@jocogov.org