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Most gardeners are familiar with the vital role bees and other pollinators play in a healthy and productive garden. But their importance touches our lives every day. Did you know that one out of every three bites of your food depends on a pollinator? That's because about 150 crops grown in the U.S. depend on pollinators, including apples, almonds, blueberries, citrus, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins and squash. Pollinators are also vital to plants fed to livestock, as well as to fiber-producing plants, such as cotton.
Simply put, pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to a second flower of the same species, where it can fertilize it and begin the process of fruit and seed production. Although some plants can pollinate themselves, most require the help of insects, birds, bats and other organisms — collectively referred to as pollinators.
Watch as a honeybee visits an apple blossom in search of nutritious nectar and pollen, and you may see some of the flower's pollen clinging to its fuzzy body. When that bee visits another flower, some of the pollen gets transferred. Good pollination results in large, healthy fruits with viable seeds. Poor pollination results in deformed fruits that often drop off before maturing.
More information: Attracting Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Other Pollinators.
Bees are workhorse pollinators. In addition to the familiar honeybee, there are about 4,000 species of native or wild bees in the continental U.S., including bumblebees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees and mason bees. The populations of many of these bees are in serious decline.
According to the Pollinator Partnership, the U.S. has lost over 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies in the past 10 years. This sharp decline has been dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is defined as a series of symptoms, whose causes are still not fully understood. Scientists believe contributing factors include parasites, diseases and exposure to pesticides. A reduction of plant diversity due to commercial agriculture and habitat loss may also be affecting honeybees' ability to get the full range of nutrients from more limited sources of nectar and pollen.
Imagine if every home gardener nationwide took steps to increase food and habitat for pollinators. Collectively, we would add tens of thousands of acres for pollinators to call home! Best of all, it's easy and rewarding to make your landscape a pollinator haven. Here's how:
Last updated: 8/9/19
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