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red tractor in grassy field Tom J. Bechman
ESTABLISH HABITAT: Pollinator plantings in odd areas on the farm can set up great habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.

Why there is value in pollinator plantings

Learn why pollinators and beneficial insects deserve your help — and how they can get it.

Many beneficial insects are in trouble. Loss of suitable habitat along with pesticide applications have pushed some species toward a point that their population is endangered. Many times, beneficial insects are impacted by pesticide applications aimed at harmful insects. Why are beneficial insects important?

They control harmful insects, eat weed seeds and, in the case of pollinators, are critical in the production of certain agriculture products. Many crops rely on both wild pollinators and honeybees for adequate pollination.

Keys for pollinators

Here’s the “who, what and when” of why pollinators are crucial to our environment and how you can help.

Who: Practically anyone can help develop more pollinator and beneficial insect habitat. Do you have odd areas along fields that aren’t normally productive? These are great places to improve existing habitat or plant new habitat for insects. 

Even homeowners, business owners, churches and schools can convert grassy areas that are mowed to habitat that will benefit pollinators and improve nearby gardens in the process. Pollinator habitat also provides habitat for other beneficial insects. Even if you’re limited on space, you can plant pollinator species in containers. Everyone can take part in improving habitat.

What: While some non-native plants provide some benefits, native plant species generally provide better all-around habitat. Most native pollinators are “forbs.” These are broadleaf plants that have a flower that pollinators can use to obtain pollen. Another name for some of these species is a wildflower. 

Common forbs include purple coneflower, wild bergamot and black-eyed Susan. These species are very common along roadsides that aren’t mowed and are easy to establish in native species plantings. Also common in most native plantings are various species of milkweed, the main source of food for the larvae of the monarch butterfly.

When: Pollinator species in Indiana are active through most of three seasons: spring, summer and fall. When a pollinator mix is planned, it should contain a minimum of nine species, with at least three species that bloom in each of the three seasons. The key to providing beneficial pollinator habitat is overlapping blooming cycles throughout the entire active period of pollinators. 

A planned native pollinator planting has a longer blooming cycle, providing continuous pollen. Traditional non-native landscaping plantings have a very short intense blooming cycle that doesn’t provide continuous pollen for pollinators.

When someone establishes a pollinator planting, a mix of forbs and warm-season grasses is often recommended. Tall fescue typically needs to be removed, most commonly by applying burndown herbicides, before seeding the pollinator mix. Some mixes include two dozen or more species.

These mixes can become expensive, sometimes costing several hundred dollars per acre. Cost-share may be available from various agencies or groups interested in conservation, such as Pheasants Forever.

Find out more information on native pollinators at xerces.org or nrcs.usda.gov. Learn more about developing habitat and the benefits of native species of pollinators.  

Native pollinator species can take up to three years to flourish, and may appear to be weeds, but once established are much less care than a traditional landscape planting. Most important, understand how important they are to food production. 

Visit your local Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency or soil and water conservation district office for information about potential cost-share programs for establishing pollinator plantings.

Donovan is a district conservationist with NRCS. He writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this article.

TAGS: Insects
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