Spring is in the air, and it's tempting to clean up the yard. Yet, starting too early, or cleaning too thoroughly, can be devastating to our pollinators, including bees, birds and butterfiles. On this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair spoke with Lisa Denys, a seasonal environmental program assistant for Washtenaw County, about some tips for maintaining a clean and environmentally friendly yard.
- Spring is well underway, and it is tempting to get busy cleaning up the yard. However, starting too soon or cleaning things up too thoroughly can be devastating for pollinators.
- Around 75% of all plants rely on pollinators, such as butterflies, bees, and beetles, to spread their pollen. Pollinators are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. Without them, we wouldn't have plants to prevent soil erosion, remove carbon from the air, and provide homes for wildlife.
- Unfortunately, native bees, honey bees, and other pollinators are struggling. Threats to pollinators include pesticides that kill them, herbicides that kill their food, habitat loss, disease, and climate change.
- How soon is too soon? The answer is dependent upon weather conditions from year to year. Evenings that reliably warm above 50℉ are favorable for pollinators. In Washtenaw County, blooming fruit trees are a good indication that it is safe to mow the lawn, rake debris, etc... Some ground nesting bees don’t emerge until mid-May, so the longer you can delay, the better.
- Washtenaw County has an abundance of resources to help make the environment more friendly for pollinators. The county holds an annual native plant sale, and many nurseries don’t utilize neonicotinoids, pesticides that are particularly deadly to bees. Lisa Denys, Seasonal Environmental Program Assistant for Washtenaw County, assists many of the programs in the county.
Pollinators in Washtenaw County
Around 75 percent of all plants rely on pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and beetles to spread their pollen. Pollinators are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. Without them, we wouldn't have plants to prevent soil erosion, remove carbon from the air, and provide homes for wildlife.
Unfortunately, native bees, honey bees, and other pollinators are struggling. Threats to pollinators include pesticides that kill them, herbicides that kill their food, habitat loss, disease, and climate change. But you can help! Creating pollinator habitat on all scales from small spaces in your yard to larger open meadows can have a positive impact on pollinators as well as local agriculture and economies.
Bee part of the solution!
What you can do?
- Plant native pollinator-friendly flowering plants.
- Purchase plants and landscaping materials that do not include neonicotinoid pesticides*. Ask the retailer/grower if seeds or plants have been pre-treated with these chemicals.
- Use non-toxic gardening methods on food and ornamental plants and trees. Herbicides can reduce the food pollinators need for larvae and adult food. Fungicides can also be toxic to pollinators. If you see some holes in plant leaves, that may be a good sign of caterpillar foraging. Watch for the next stages of caterpillars and chrysalis on plants, followed by butterflies! Stop and think before you spray anything outdoors.
- Reduce lawn mowing to every 2 to 3 weeks, and leave some areas free of mulch for ground nesting pollinators. Add variety to your lawn! Turf grass is poor habitat for pollinators. Dandelions and clover both provide important nectar sources in urban and suburban areas, particularly in early spring when nectar sources are scarce. Better yet, turn your lawn into a wildflower meadow.
- Encourage your landlord or homeowners association to create pollinator-friendly habitats and maintenance policies.
- Install a pollinator-friendly rain garden that both reduces runoff and attracts pollinators.
- Put up a native bee hotel or house in your yard.
*Neonicotinoids are included in insecticides and are systemic (incorporated directly into plant cells). They are known to be toxic to pollinators. Here is a document from the Xerces Society that lists neonicotinoid product names so you can avoid them. Let's work together to create a non-toxic environment that is safe for pollinators, pets, and people!
What is Ann Arbor doing to help pollinators?
- A new subcommittee of the Ann Arbor Environmental Commission, the Ann Arbor Pollinator Subcommittee, was established in 2017 with the aim of improving pollinator health. The Pollinator Subcommittee meets monthly and is working to identify concrete actions that can be taken throughout the city, including engaging Ann Arbor residents to help.
- Natural Area Preservation does not use neonicotinoids to maintain City natural areas and parks.
- City Council designated Ann Arbor as a BEE CITY USA and is committed to working towards a pollinator-friendly community.
- Mayor Christopher Taylor has signed on to National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge and is taking action to protect monarchs butterflies.
- Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County are both certified as National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitats.
- The University of Michigan is eliminating the use of neonicotinoids in their grounds management practices, completing an inventory of pollinator friendly plants in their planting beds, and identifying pollinator corridors for increased plantings and expansion of "natural" areas.
- Wild Ones Ann Arbor - Local resource for information on native plants and pollinators
- MSU Extension Master Gardener Program
- Washtenaw County Master Rain Gardener Program
- Michigan native plant growers and retailers from the Michigan Native Plant Producers Association
- Xerces Society – A great resource for information on pollinators
- Smart Lawn Alternatives to Protect Pollinators from MSU Extension
- Native pollinator plant finder tool from the National Wildlife Federation
(Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/NAP/Pages/Pollinators.aspx)
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