Commentary by Meredith McCutcheon
Trees, flowers and food crops rely on pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, to reproduce, but the number of pollinators has been decreasing. One way you can help increase this number is to plant a pollinator garden, which includes a variety of native wildflowers that attract and help support pollinators, including the 416 species of bees that call Indiana home. It’s not complicated. In fact, you may already have a pollinator garden in your own backyard or at your workplace, church or favorite park.
The key to a pollinator garden is to use plants that are native to Indiana, which include more than 200 species of wildflowers, trees, shrubs and grasses. The reason native plants are significant is because native pollinators have evolved to depend on native plants. As an example, in “Why Native Plants Matter,” the National Audubon Society states that “research by the entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that native oak trees support over 500 species of caterpillar, whereas gingkos, a commonly planted landscape tree from Asia, host only 5 species of caterpillars.”
Most native plants are available in any landscaping or garden center. The Hamilton County Master Gardeners will host a native plant sale on May 21. Because pollinators are attracted to bright colors and varying shapes and sizes, plant variety is important. You can find a list of pollinator plants at indiananativeplants.org.
Besides adding beauty, pollinator plants soak up more carbon dioxide than turf grasses and have much longer root systems, meaning they prevent erosion by holding soil in place. They can even purify groundwater. Some plants, like echinacea, can be used for medicinal purposes, while others can be used for dyes in clothing.
Avoiding use of pesticides is critical to boosting pollinator gardens. Targeting pests can have devastating consequences to already threatened pollinators, such as monarch butterflies. Pesticides can also kill natural predators that keep pests in check.
So, plant some milkweed this spring. Milkweed is critical to the monarch butterfly’s survival, as it is their only food source. Better yet, plant a pollinator garden without applying pesticides. Giving endangered pollinators an improved habitat is beneficial to all of us.
Meredith McCutcheon is a member of the Carmel Green Initiative. Contact the group at carmelgreen.org.