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Posted on June 11, 2021
June 11 is Make Life Beautiful Day. Celebrate by planting flowers! The positive health benefits of flowers affect humans, wildlife, and other plant life. In other words, all living things. Flowers are food for the soul, food and shelter for wildlife, and pest repellants in the vegetable garden.
The best flower choices right now in this era of climate change are those that support pollinators. Plants and pollinators are dependent on each other, and we are dependent on them both. About 85% of plants need pollination to make seed and reproduce and in turn provide food, fiber, and medicine to animals and humans. Plants also purify the air and prevent erosion by holding soil in place. Pollinators are responsible for 40% of our food.
Pollinators include wasps, bees, birds, moths, butterflies, and bats. Their numbers have declined over the last several decades due to chemical pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change.
Urban sprawl, construction, and conventional agriculture destroy pollinator habitat. Land is cleared removing wild grasses and flowers pollinators need for food, breeding, and shelter. ‘Weeds’ are sprayed with toxic herbicides that kill off huge numbers of pollinators. Neonicotinoids (neonics) are pesticides that affect bees neurologically and negatively impact their foraging abilities.
Climate change is causing flowering times of plants to shift. Warm winters, cool springs, and extreme weather events disrupt bloom times. When insects emerge after winter and birds pass through during migration, they find that flowers they need for energy and nutrients have already bloomed or haven’t opened yet.
As insect numbers drop, so do populations of birds that feed on them. In turn, animals that feed on birds are affected, too. The entire food chain suffers when one part of it is affected.
The bottom line is that without pollinators, entire ecosystems will destabilize.
Your goal in planting a pollinator friendly flower garden should be to have something always in flower from spring through fall. The earliest blooms are bulbs, such as crocuses and daffodils, flowering shrubs such as forsythia, and fruit trees. Dandelions are one of the earliest food sources for bees, so don’t treat them as a nuisance and dig them up. Let them flourish.
Plan for broad diversity. Lots of different colors, shapes, sizes, and textures in annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees will serve a wide variety of bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and birds.
Plant large swaths of a single color of flowers. Bees forage in a small area, so a 3’x3’ patch of yellow, blue, or red will be easy for them to find and feed on.
Garden organically. Pesticides are a major cause of pollinator decline. Create healthy soil with compost, cover crops, and worms, and you will have fewer pests and diseases. It all starts with good soil. When you have an insect infestation, use organic and cultural methods, not toxic pesticides.
Native bees are responsible for most pollination, so use native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs to attract them. Contact your local Native Plant Society to learn about plants that grow naturally in your region. They may have an annual plant but also be able to direct you to a reputable nursery.
Aside from native plants, there are dozens of other beautiful flowers to support pollinators. Perennials, shrubs, and trees that are not found naturally near you but can acclimate and not be invasive are called ‘adaptables’. Lilacs, for instance, originated in Europe, but they do well in North America without choking out the native plants, and pollinators swarm to them.
The annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables we love to plant every year also attract pollinators. Here is a partial list including perennial herbs. These plants grow well in containers if you don’t have room for a garden.
Along with planting a wide variety of flowers for pollinators, provide water in shallow dishes. Place a few rocks in the dish for them to land on and drink. Create habitat with a ‘wild corner’ in your yard. Insects overwinter in dead logs and leaf litter. Leave some open space for ground nesters to burrow in.
When you plant flowers for pollinators, you also have a colorful, lush, and richly textured landscape to enjoy every day. Gardens connect us to nature and lift our spirits. Cut flowers bring joy and beauty indoors. And then there’s the bonus of edible flowers for flavor and color in salad, tea, jelly, bread, and cake.
Make Life Beautiful for yourself and pollinators by planting flowers!
By Nan Fischer
Nan Fischer is a food and garden writer based in Taos, New Mexico. She is the founder of the Auntie Nannie’s Taos Seed Exchange and owns a small organic nursery, nannie plants. She’s been published in GRIT magazine, Green Prints, the Taos News, and is a regular contributor to Mother Earth Gardener.
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