In Part I of this series, we established that the biosphere was in trouble because close to a fifth of all land plant species are threatened with extinction; 90% of all living land plants are flowering plants; and, most of terrestrial life depends, either directly or indirectly, on flowering plants. Houston, we have a problem.
Loss of habitat is the main culprit. Flowers need habitat in which to grow and prosper. Pollinators also need pesticide-free habitat in which to do their pollinating duty. We’re talking birds, bees, and assorted others. So, let’s create and manage flower and pollinator habitat! Specifically, three types of habitat: urban spaces, home gardens, and farmland.
We’re talking community gardens, rooftop gardens, undeveloped lots, parks and roadway strips. Normally, when we hear “community garden”, we think zucchini, tomatoes and carrots. The traditional fresh-veggie garden is ok, but it’s not really saving the planet from habitat loss due to agriculture. Plus, urban gardens are plagued by such problems as gardener drop-out, theft, waste, and free loaders. These problems are why community gardens often poop out after a few years. The issue is that growing veggies requires daily attention – weeding, watering, controlling pests, harvesting. In time, those who do most of the labor start having issues with those who don’t, and, well, the center does not hold. So let’s add low-maintenance flowers to these community gardens (ditto on rooftops) - ideally, flowers suited to the local climate, so they can be left (more or less) on their own.
As for undeveloped lots, parks and roadway strips, Amsterdam, with its flowering “insect hotels, is a model for cities around the globe. See Bees are dying at an alarming rate. Amsterdam may have the answer.
Some tips from USDA Forest Service's Gardening for Pollinators:
Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall.
Help pollinators find and use them by planting in clumps, rather than single plants.
Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with "doubled" flowers.
Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.
Include larval host plants in your landscape.
If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated.
Plant a butterfly garden! A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include.
Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators.
And then check out Modern Farmer’s The Best Plants to Attract Pollinators, by Region for ideas of what to plant in your region.
Basically, plant wildflower strips, cover crops and hedgerows, and participate the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to retire lands, thereby providing alternative habitats for flora, birds and insects. Farmers should also contact the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for technical and financial assistance to help them provide better wildlife habitat on their lands without jeopardizing their bottom line.
Per How wildflower plantings on farms benefit bees and crop pollination (Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California), wildflower strips along field edges dramatically increase the abundance, diversity, and resilience of bees and other beneficial insects. According to at least one recent study, wildflower strips in California also enhanced pest control for adjacent crops by attracting insects that preyed on crop pests.
Per the Audubon Society, hedgerows can turn farm edges into bird habitat. Hedgerows can function as corridors for pollinators and plant populations that have become isolated in fragmented agricultural landscapes. However, hedgerows sometimes act as barriers to pollinator and plant movement, so farmers should always get technical assistance before adding hedgerows to their fields.
Speaking of technical assistance, see Xerces Society and UC Davis fact sheet Habitat for bees and beneficials. And here some practical guides:
That’s it for today.