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pollinators

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Pollination is one of the most common concerns when planting spring and early summer gardens. How do gardeners know if their cucumbers and squash are really getting pollinated?

Dani Carroll, an Alabama Extension horticulturist, said there are several ways to ensure pollinators are active in a growing space. By simply observing a garden or flowerbed for a short period of time, one can determine whether pollinators are—or are not—present.

Carroll said pollinators are like humans. These insects need three major things: food, water and shelter. Gardeners often forget pollinators prefer an assortment of foods and do not feed on the same thing repetitively. Incorporating a variety of flowers and herbs can help provide pollinators with options to keep them coming back to the garden for more.

Different Types of Pollinators

“Everyone is familiar with honeybees being a pollinator,” Carroll said. “But, if you don’t live next door to a beekeeper, there are other native pollinators gardeners can attract.”

There are thousands of pollinators regularly contributing to garden pollination. Squash bees, sweat bees, leaf cutter bees, bats and butterflies all play a small role in the fruitfulness of productive gardens. Many native bees, aside from honeybees and bumble bees, can pollinate the plants that are not self-pollinating and require assistance to bear fruit.

While there are plants that are totally dependent on pollinators, such as cucumbers of the cucurbate family, there are also self-pollinated plants, such as tomatoes. Each of these benefit from pollinator activity. The buzzing vibration helps shake pollen loose for tomatoes, and the cucurbate family relies fully on the services of a pollinator to carry pollen and bear fruit.

Controlling Pests

One of the larger aspects to carefully consider is pesticide use. Carroll said there are times when pesticide use can be helpful, but as most gardeners know, it can also be harmful. Monitoring the crop is an easy way to determine a good time for application. When flowers are open and pollinators are out, refrain from using pesticides. Pollinators are generally inactive at night making it a good time to apply chemicals.

There are several easy ways to get rid of pests without using pesticides.

“Monitoring crops is a very effective way to determine whether to use a pesticide,” Carroll said. “If there are only two aphids, it is very likely that native beneficial insects will take care of the problem. With pests like the tomato horn worm, simply picking the worm off of the plant is an easy and effective way to protect the crop.”

Master Gardener Helpline

Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardener Helpline. To reach the helpline, dial 1-877-252-GROW (4769).

Find more information on gardens and garden pollinators by visiting www.aces.edu.

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