When most people think pollinators, they think honeybees or butterflies. But Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist Wizzie Brown says there are a whole host of other pollinators. Some mammals such as bats will pollinate. And then there are beetles, bumblebees, and many other types of “solitary bees” – called that because most of them live alone and in the ground.
“Mason bees or leafcutter bees or blue orchard bees… sweat bees, cuckoo bees, just tons and tons. And they’re really cool and they’re really pretty,” Brown said.
Step 1 – Provide food:
You probably know that means plants, and specifically flowers, with nectar. But it needs to be a bit more intentional than that.
“You want a variety of bloom periods for the plants: from spring through fall… You need a variety of colors because different insects are attracted to different colors. So reds, blues, yellows, you also need different flower shapes because depending upon how their mouth parts are, they’re going to be able to access the nectar on that flower differently. So if you’re talking about a butterfly with a really long, straw-like mouth part, it can be a tubular-shaped flower. But if you’re talking about a beetle that has chewing mouthparts, it’s going to need something like a daisy or something that has a more flattened shape.”
Brown says you can also supplement food by putting out different types of fruit. Try putting fruit in suet baskets and hanging them in a tree.
Step 2 – Provide water:
This is especially important during hot and dry summer months, but just any water source will not do. Brown says insects can drown in a pond or a birdbath.
“You can use essentially any container that’s going to hold water but you need to add rocks or sand. I have some that have shells that we collected at the beach. My son has one that he put green army men stacked up in. So it could essentially be anything. It could be a drip irrigation system that you have falling onto a stone that has a small amount of water. I have another I created a planter out of a soaker hose and zip ties and I kind of spiraled it up and then zip tied it together, put soil in that and planted stuff. So when I turn on that soaker hose, not only does it water the plants that are in there, but it also has that water coming off the edge. That is a safe way for those insects to get that water.”
To prevent mosquitoes, Brown says you should change out standing water every three days.
Step 3 – Consider providing shelter:
For the solitary bees listed above, there isn’t much you need to do.
“Having bare patches of ground in certain areas of your property is going to be huge to keep that population going.”
Bumblebees prefer snags of tree branches or firewood piles and rodent burrows.
But you can also make an insect shelter.
“We have done an activity before where we just take like an old coffee can or whatever container we have and you can use sticks, old toilet paper rolls and packaging material, just anything that is organic and will break down and you just kind of cram it in there, pine cones, bamboo and put that out. And you have a shelter area for insects.”
But, Brown cautions, “It may not be the particular butterfly or beetle or something that you want to come, but something will get in there and use it.”
Step 4 – What to do to be an excellent pollinator host:
“If you really want to kind of get crazy with your insect thing, which hopefully everybody does because it’s fun, you can provide basking areas for them.”
Brown says that’s as easy as a big stone or a log that gets morning sun.
“Just make sure that it’s in the sunshine and that it’s not right by a bird feeder because, you know, the birds will then eat the bugs.”
She says another fun thing to make is a puddling area. Some insects like these because they can collect minerals out of the soil moist area.
“Use a shallow dish and you want to mix… compost and sand and some soil. You can also mix in like, if you have available, cowpats. But not everybody has access to that… Mix that all together and then you want to create like a little shallow divot area and then put a rock in there and then you add water. And in that little divot area is where that stuff will puddle. But that’s going to provide salts and minerals for butterflies and stuff like that.”
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