It is no secret; pollinators are in decline.
Did you know, pollinators provide 1 out of 3 bites of food you eat? Over 80% of flowering plants are pollinated by small, but busy animals, like bees and butterflies. They are essential to life on Earth – for plants and humans. With such an important role, they have earned a week of recognition: National Pollinator Week, June 19-23.
Celebrate pollinators while also adopting a new practice to support their health this year.
Turn off outside lights.
Outdoor lights disrupt night-flying pollinators, such as the sphinx moth. When exposed to artificial light at night, nocturnal pollinators can die from exhaustion or become easy prey. Installing motion detectors is a great option to reduce light usage at night.
Leave a few weeds.
Don’t get me wrong, a perfectly manicured lawn is quite attractive, but it offers few resources for pollinators. Many weeds, such as dandelions and violets, are important sources of nectar and pollen in the spring; allowing some weedy plants to grow supports pollinators. Consider seeding turfgrass with flowering plants that tolerate light mowing and foot traffic like white clover and thyme.
Plant a variety of nectar-rich flowers.
Different pollinators are attracted to different types of flowers and different pollinators are active at different times of the year. Planting a diverse garden of nectar-rich flowers will support pollinators all season. Include both annual and perennial flowers that bloom throughout spring and fall. Flowers with overlapping blooming periods support pollinators all season. Also try to incorporate native plants: they are well adapted to our area, thrive with minimal care, and serve as excellent sources of nectar and pollen.
Provide water for butterflies.
Water is essential to life – even for butterflies. But they do not need large stands of water, instead they visit damp soil or mud to drink. These shallow water sources (known as puddling) provide the necessary salt and amino acids butterflies need to live. Create a butterfly “puddler” with a shallow dish, sand, soil, water, and flat stones. Fill the container with sand, level it off, and create an indentation in the center to collect water. Lightly sprinkle soil over the sand to provide nutrition. Add water to the container and place it in your garden amongst your plants. Replace the water in the container as needed. Flat stones can be placed on top of the sand for butterflies to land.
Contribute to community science.
Science can be incredibly complex, but it can also be pretty simple. Regardless of your background, you can help scientists and contribute to scientific discoveries by joining a community-based science project. These projects allow everyone in our community a chance to contribute observations to further scientific study in the natural world. Popular projects for pollinators include I-Pollinate, BeeSpotter, Monarch Watch, and Firefly Watch.
Visit Illinois Pollinators
We have gathered all the research-based resources and ideas you need to support pollinators. Visit our Pollinator page to learn about Illinois pollinator species and their host plants. Find a step-by-step guide to start a pollinator garden. Or explore the DIY pollinator activities for all ages. Pollinator populations need our help. With our guidance, you can help pollinators thrive: Visit go.illinois.edu/IllinoisPollinators.
Photo credit: Pollination by Terri Michels on Unsplash
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brittnay Haag is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Her work focuses on youth horticulture education, specifically through school gardens and Jr. Master Gardener programs. Brittnay provides leadership for three county Master Gardener programs and is responsible for developing community programs and providing expertise in horticulture and environmental sciences.