Peggy Doty
Peggy Doty
DIXON, Ill. — Developing a sustainable landscape requires a balance with local climate and habitat.

“It’s all about choosing the right plants for the right place and providing habitat for wildlife,” said Candice Miller, University of Illinois Extension educator in horticulture at the JoDaviess, Stephenson and Winnebago Unit.

Sustainability also means no additional fertilization, no use of pesticides, as well as saving time, labor and water, Miller explained during the “Ready … Set … Grow” gardening workshop organized by the master gardeners of Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties.

“I worry about the top of the food chain because we have lost our top predators,” said Peggy Doty, Extension educator for energy and environmental stewardship at the Boone, DeKalb and Ogle Unit. “You can’t have a complete food chain without all the pieces, and we have an imbalance going on.”

There is no way to manage an animal if you aren’t managing the habitat, Doty noted.

“Twenty-five percent of birds and mammals are dependent on fruits and seeds that are pollinated,” she said.

“Consider native plants in your landscape that fit the pollinators,” she advised. “It will help them greatly if you plant what they’re familiar with so they don’t have to adapt.”

The insect layer, Doty noted, is three-quarters across the food chain.

Pollination Matters

Pollination is an important process, Miller said.

“Pollination is the sexual reproductive process of plants, and it is required to get flowers and fruit produced,” she added. “The goal is to get the pollen transferred from the male part of the flower to the female part of the flower.”

And without pollinators, Miller noted, pollination doesn’t occur and food is not produced.

“One-third of the food we eat depends on pollination from a pollinator,” she added. “Pollination is also important for clothes, shelter, medicine and pretty flowers.”

In addition, she said, 35 percent of crop production worldwide depends on pollinators.

“From $18 (billion) to $27 billion in value of crops in the U.S. depend on pollinators,” she said.

For some crops, such as almonds, the importance of pollinators is even greater.

“The California almond crop uses 60 percent of our honeybee hives for pollination,” Miller reported.

Although pollen is sometimes moved by wind, the educator said, “more than 85 percent of our flowering plants require an insect to move pollen.”

Since some flowers do not self-pollinate, they need pollen from another flower to get transported over for pollination to occur.

“That’s when our insects come into play,” Miller said.

Plants need a mechanism to attract the pollinators.

“That’s what the pretty colors are for and the patterns in flowers,” Miller said. “Plants produce nectar so pollinators can collect it and use it as their food source.”

Bees are the most important pollinator, but butterflies, moths and flies also can be pollinators.

“You play a large role in making a change in our environment,” Miller stressed. “Start by replacing invasive plants with plants that are much better for pollinators.”

She recommends a diverse garden to attract pollinators. The garden should include a many types of flowers in various colors with different patterns.

“Try to include flowers with early and late bloom because we want at least three species of flowers in bloom during the spring, summer and fall,” the educator said.

“To attract pollinators, plant a mass of color in your garden to help the bees find the spot,” she advised.

Create Pathways

Since turf does not provide much for pollinators, Miller told the gardeners to think about planting flowers between areas to serve as a pathway for bees to follow to move from their habitat to make their way to the garden.

“Small bees fly less than 500 feet and bumble bees will fly up to a mile,” she said.

Incorporating plants with different lifecycles, such as annuals, perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs, provides a diversity of plants that is great for pollinators.

“Think about planting cultivars because sometimes when we create hybrids we lose a lot of the pollen content of the flower,” Miller said. “Maybe plant a straight species of a flower and plant a cultivar and see which ones the bees go to.”

Some plants such as the milkweed are great for pollinators.

“The milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly, a lot of beneficials, like parasitic wasps and lady beetles will love it, as well,” Miller said.

Gardeners should think about changing some of their practices.

“If we’re using a lot of pesticides in the landscape, we can’t really expect a lot of beneficial insects or bees to be there,” Miller said. “Because we might be killing off the pest we’re targeting, but we’re also harming some other things, as well.”