UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Without pollinators such as bees and butterflies, the world’s food supply would be reduced drastically, threatening the survival of many plants, animals and humans.
But these valuable species are in trouble, warned Connie Schmotzer, Penn State Extension Master Gardener and coordinator of the Pollinator Certification program. “Bee populations are declining, affected by habitat loss, disease and contact with pesticides,” she said. “Invertebrate populations have declined by 45% since 1974, and 25% of bumblebee species are at risk of extinction.”
Master Gardeners are taking action to protect pollinators by planting pollinator-friendly gardens and providing education for the gardening public. Home gardeners in Pennsylvania are invited to join the effort by having their property certified as “Pollinator Friendly.”
The program, which started in 2011, educates home gardeners about how to create safe havens for pollinators. A how-to guide is located on the Pollinator Garden Certification website. Since its inception, 963 gardens have been certified in 57 Pennsylvania counties, Schmotzer pointed out.
This year, Master Gardeners expect to exceed 1,000 certified gardens. To celebrate, they will award a free decorative pollinator-friendly garden sign to certified gardens numbers 995 to 1,005. Additionally, the home gardener whose pollinator habitat is designated No. 1,000 will receive a free sign, $75 worth of plants to expand his or her pollinator habitat, and will be featured in the program’s newsletter, “What’s the Buzz.”
Schmotzer, a former consumer horticulture extension educator, said the minimum requirements for certification are relatively easy and inexpensive. Certification requires having four different species of native trees or shrubs and three species of native flowering perennials for spring, summer and fall. These beneficial species include milkweeds, asters, goldenrods and perennial sunflowers.
How much needs to be done will depend on what is already in the yard, she added. “Gardeners can save money by buying smaller plants, which will grow quickly and are easier to establish,” said Schmotzer, who also advised against the use of pesticides and invasive plants. “If someone is starting from scratch, they can do a little each year, slowly building up their pollinator habitat.”
Finally, she noted that a pollinator-friendly habitat should incorporate a water source, such as a shallow birdbath, and a pollinator nesting area in the form of dead wood, bare ground and plants with hollow or pithy stems.
“Home gardens play a key role in the survival of pollinators,” Schmotzer said. “Everyone who makes some changes in their yards will be helping pollinators, whether or not they certify their garden. Together we can make a difference.”
More information on the certification process — including recommendations on native plant varieties, tips on safeguarding pollinator habitats, and an application — can be found at https://ento.psu.edu/research/
–Amy Duke, Penn State University