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Horticulture Garden plans pollinator habitat

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MORRIS – Across the United States, honey bee colonies have been dying off dramatically, and the effects of colony collapse disorder may have major impacts on the food we eat.

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“Every third mouthful of food we eat directly or indirectly depends on honey bee pollination,” said Steve Poppe, senior horticulture scientist at the West Central Research and Outreach Center.  

Since the 1940s, the total number of managed honey bee colonies has decreased from five million to just 2.5 million. Although scientists don’t know exactly why hives are dying off, theories include increased use of pesticides, parasites and environmental stressors like lack of adequate pollen and nectar for good bee nutrition.

To help find solutions to the nutrition problem, the WCROC has partnered with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on a trial of native plants to see which mixes of grasses and flowers best support pollinator health.

The trial plots will be planted southwest of the overlook near the WCROC’s Horticulture Garden in an area designated in the garden’s master plan for native bee research and education. The area has been bare for the last two years while staff worked to make sure all of the perennial weeds were eliminated before the trial starts.

Each mix will include a different percentage of grasses and forb species. All of the native mixes are made of plants that are readily available for purchase.  

“Part of the effort here will be to record some data on the activity of pollinators within those treatments – How great is it? What is attracting these pollinators more?” said Poppe.

Prior studies about flowers and pollinators have shown that native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers.

Poppe noted that pollinators thrive in a diverse landscape that includes native flowers. Although annuals like petunias are beautiful, they are not as attractive to native pollinators.

Colors that attract the most native bees are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow. Common popular flowers include sunflowers, joe-pye weed, pussy willows, autumn joy sedum and blazing star, said Poppe.

Planting for the trial will begin this month, as weather permits. They plan to avoid using any tillage equipment during planting to prevent weed seeds from germinating and impacting the trial. Instead, they will use a no-till/cone seeded drill to plant the native seeds.

As with other trials, the project will serve as a demonstration site and outdoor classroom for the community. Staff members will be able to share best methods for effective planting with individuals and landowners who are interested in using native plants on their property.  

“The most important thing is setting aside a piece of ground and making sure you rid yourself of the perennial weeds,” said Poppe.

Researchers will collect data from the trial for the next five to seven years, likely starting in 2015. It can take a full growing season or more for some native plants to get established and start to produce flowers.

How can you help pollinators?

  • Create a “pollinator” garden in a sunny location filled with native plants.
  • Choose plants that will bloom throughout the growing season.
  • Select several different flower shapes and colors to attract a variety of pollinators.
  • Plant flowers in clusters.
  • Avoid using pesticides on the pollinator garden.
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kukur

Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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