Pollinator Conservation in Your Ecosystem Garden

The Pollinator Conservation Handbook, by The Xerces Society and The Bee Works, is a wonderful resource for all Ecosystem Gardeners to support native pollinators.

Most of you have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where honey bees are dying off by the millions. A large part of our agricultural food supply is dependent on pollination by honey bees, this collapse is a matter of great concern to farmers across the country.

Because the rise of factory monoculture farms has co-evolved with industrial bee keeping here in the U.S., our food supply has become dependent on the services of the non-native honey bee, to the exclusion and detriment of our native pollinators.

The collapse of honey bee colonies caused farmers and the corporate agricultural industry to turn their eyes to native pollinators to fulfill the essential ecosystem service of pollination of our food supply. However, it was soon apparent that many native pollinators had vanished and others were in sharp decline.

What Happened to the Native Pollinators?

  1. Habitat loss and fragmentation–both the outright destruction of habitat, and chopping it down into smaller and smaller isolated fragments threaten the diversity and abundance of native pollinators (and all wildlife).
  2. Habitat degradation–this reflects both the influx of invasive species and some land management practices, such as modern mowers and string trimmers which can cut in places which previously would have been left to grow, reducing both floral and structural diversity. Invasive organisms outcompete native species, replacing them with inferior foraging and egg-laying opportunities. Herbicides used instead of hand weeding kill all plants, removing forage for native pollinators. Our passion for “neatness” is destroying habitat for pollinators.
  3. Pesticides–don’t just kill target species, but kill all species. Pesticides and herbicides are having a disastrous impact on native pollinators. Pesticides kill directly, while herbicides reduce the variety and amount of available forage.

Native pollinators are in danger

These threats to our native pollinators are all the result of human action, and it will only be through human actions that reverse these trends that pollinators (and all wildlife) will be able to survive these dangers.

What You Can Do to Help Native Pollinators

  1. Stop using herbicides and pesticides
  2. Plant a wide diversity of plants whose bloom times overlap and last from early spring through late fall. Diversity is key here, you want lots of plants that bloom in March/April, lots in bloom through the summer, and a wide variety of blooms through the fall. The more diverse your plantings, the more pollinators you can support.
  3. Protect and create appropriate nesting and egg-laying sites. Bees need sites in the ground or woody vegetation and nesting materials and butterflies require appropriate host plants (each species requires a specific plant). Many bees nest in the stems of flowering plants, so don’t cut them down until the following spring after the bees have emerged.
  4. Create sheltered, undisturbed sites for hibernation and overwintering. Brush piles, rock piles, log piles, and hedgerows are great ways to accomplish this.

Planning your Ecosystem Garden to support native pollinators will also benefit many other species of wildlife. Everything is connected, and actions taken to help one kind of wildlife often have beneficial effects for other species as well.

Check out the Pollinator Conservation Handbook to discover more ways of helping native pollinators in your Ecosystem Garden. (This is an affiliate link, your purchase of this book through this link will contribute $0.80 to the upkeep of this site. Thank you!)

What are you doing for pollinators in your Ecosystem Garden? Do you have a butterfly garden, bee nesting blocks, or safe places for pollinators to spend the winter? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

© 2009 – 2010, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Carole Sevilla Brown

Carole Sevilla Brown is a Conservation Biologist who firmly believes that wildlife conservation begins in your own back yard. Carole is an author, educator, speaker, and passionate birder, butterfly watcher,  and naturalist who travels around the country teaching people to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife. She gardens for wildlife in Philadelphia, zone 6b, and created the philosophy of Ecosystem Gardening. Watch for her book Ecosystem Gardening, due out soon. Carole is managing editor of  Beautiful Wildlife Garden, and also  Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. Follow Carole on Facebook and also @CB4wildlife and on Google+


  1. Hear hear for native pollinators! Some of them are actually more efficient at pollination than honeybees (orchard mason bees, for example), and many of them also serve double-duty as natural pest control (think hoverfly larvae, who eat aphids and other soft-bodied pests). Most pollinator species also serve as a food supply for birds in some form. We need these little guys, our landscape depends on them!

  2. I am really glad you are covering this topic, Carole! It is so important for all of us to be aware of, not just gardeners. – Bethe @balmeras
    .-= Bethe´s last post ..Children See, Children Do… =-.

  3. Gardening for pollinators is very important and all these tips are useful. But there is something not mentioned here: no matter how much we try to reduce the size of lawns (45.6 million acres in this country) we will never eliminate them altogether. However a lawn doesn’t have to be entirely bad for pollinators. If broad-leaved or flowering “weeds” are allowed among the blades of grass they can be helpful to many pollinators. That is why it is better to call them “grass companions”. They can also enrich the soil, help reduce the “need” for pesticides and contribute to the resilience of lawns.
    Read more: http://pollinators.blogspot.com/2010/04/lawn-for-pollinators.html
    .-= Beatriz Moisset´s last blog ..Lawn for Pollinators. Grass Companions =-.

  4. Carole,
    I applaud your efforts with bringing attention to our native pollinators.

    My company teaches gardeners to be successful in raising mason bees. We feel this is a great “beekeeping 101″ bee. Easy to raise, gentle, and if taught correctly, actually has the gardener appreciating the total life cycle of a solitary bee.

    From the blue orchard & hornfaced mason bees, we are then going to help gardeners learn other solitary bee species around them.

    Our long term goal is to logistically collect excess spring mason bees in about 5 years to be used for commercial pollination enhancement if the workhorse of the industry (honey bees) continue to be challenged.


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