In honor of National Pollinator Week we ask the question “how important are pollinators in our community garden?” VERY!! Technically pollination is the process where pollen is transferred from the male flower parts (stamen-anther and filament) to the female flower parts (pistil-stigma, style, and ovary). Sometimes the male and female parts are on the same flower and sometimes they are on different flowers on the same plant, like squash and cucumbers. Pollinators visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar. The pollination process is a consequence.
Pollinators are an integral part of any garden. They play a major role in the production of 150 food crops in the United States. Apples, almonds, melons, strawberries, blueberries, onions, squash, cucumbers, and broccoli are just a few food crops that are dependent on pollinators. One third of every bite of food we eat is due to pollinators. So, they are vital to your community garden. How do you attract and keep pollinators?
Some community gardens have common areas set aside for flowers. This is a great spot to add plants that attract pollinators. Plants like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), bee balm (Monarda didyma), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), zinnia (Zinnia elegans), butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), dill (Anethum graveolens), and aster (Aster spp.) are all great choices. These not only attract pollinators but other beneficial insects like lacewings, praying mantids, and parasitic wasps. Plan your area for a long bloom time. Bee balm and black-eyed Susan start blooming early in the summer while many asters bloom late into the fall. Some gardeners may want to include a few of these in their individual garden plot.
Perennial shrubs are also great for common areas since they create a more permanent landscape. Consider fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) which starts blooming early in the spring. Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) blooms in midsummer and is usually covered in pollinators. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) provides flowers in the cooler months when the hairy bumble bees may be active. UGA Commercial Horticulturist, Jeffrey Webb, has a great publication, Beyond Butterflies: Gardening for Native Pollinators, which has a comprehensive list of plant choices.
Use pesticides ONLY when necessary. If you have to use them, spot spray rather than cover spray. Apply pesticides that are the least toxic to pollinators. And, spray when the pollinators are less active. Your local UGA Extension agent can help you decide which pesticide is most effective with the least damage to the beneficial insects.
With a few additional steps your garden can even become a Certified Pollinator Garden. The pollinators win since they have a great place to collect nectar and pollen. Your food crops win because their flowers get pollinated. You win because your vegetables are more abundant and extra delicious!