Planting for the Birds and the Bees

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Turning Your Garden Into a “Certified Pollinator Habitat”

Pollinating insects are in trouble! Almost daily you hear continuing reports of declining numbers of insect and bird populations. There is one thing we can do to help that is actually pretty simple—many of us are already halfway, if not almost, there.

Under the direction of Lynchburg’s Blue Ridge Conservation (BRC) it is easy to create a pollinator garden and certify it as a “pollinator-friendly habitat.” BRC is dedicated to supporting the biodiversity and sustainability of the natural environment. They have worked throughout the region and are now encouraging the citizens of Central Virginia to sign up for their truly local garden certification program.

Their online certification application directs you through a process that can be completed in only six simple steps. Below is an overview:
1. Provide food. It’s important that you choose only plants from BRC’s native plant list for the certification. Our local insects and wildlife need plants that have evolved in this region. This is particularly true when they are raising offspring!

The plants that provide nesting sites and food for insects in the larval stage are called “host” plants. Most of the time it takes one specific plant to feed one specific insect—commonly called a specialized relationship. (Think monarchs and milkweed for example, or fennel and parsley for swallowtail caterpillars.) The more diverse your host plants, the more insect variety you’ll find in your garden later.

You’ll also need plants that provide nectar in the summer. European honeybees will collect nectar from a variety of plants, but native bees have more specific needs. Asters and goldenrods are only two of the power-packed nectar sources for our local insects. Make an effort to provide nectar plants throughout the summer into late fall.

Refer to the native plant list (located on the BRC website with the application), do some homework and choose plants that feed the most insects and bees.

2. Provide a water source. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. A saucer, or even a dog bowl, with water and unsubmerged stones for the insects to sit on while they cool themselves is enough to do the job. If you’d like to attract birds into this lush habitat you’re creating, consider a moving water source; add a running water sound from a trickling fountain and you’ll be serenaded by songbirds.

3. Provide shelter. This where you can get really creative or be extremely simple. Your choice! You could make an elaborate bee hotel or simply leave a small pile of sticks somewhere on the ground for insects to use for a home. If you just want to check the box and not think about making something, BRC has solitary bee houses for sale on their website. Most of the things that we throw away as lawn debris would provide habitat if we only thought differently about them.

4. Safeguard your habitat. Once your garden is planted you have to take some precautions to keep it safe and healthy by reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides around your home. It’s also necessary to fight invasive plants that crowd out the native plants our pollinators require to thrive. You can identify invasive plants on the Department of Conservation Resources website: www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/invsppdflist.

5. Remit payment. Finish filling out the application with a $20 fee that purchases your own “Certified Pollinator Habitat” metal sign. You can proudly show others you are helping to support the pollinator population in Central Virginia.

6. Submit application. With a few small steps in your garden, together we can help make Central Virginia “bee aflutter,” one pollinator garden at a time.

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