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BELTRAMI COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS: Plant for the pollinators

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Another day, another news article relates the dangerous state of pollinators here and throughout the world.

These creatures face weather extremes, of course, but man-made acts also kill them. They include mono-cropping that limits insect diet. Many insects travel only short distances, so if they can't find the food they need, they can't survive. Management practices used in commercial beekeeping put them under constant stress and put them on diets of one food source or another instead of a balanced one. Pesticides kill their small bodies. Habitat has been reduced due to clean-cropping methods, urbanization and reduction of Conservation Reserve Program land.

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We gardeners are not innocent. To get perfect yards we use pesticides, herbicides and fungicides with abandon, with little thought about the consequences to other creatures. We also plant non-native and hybridized plants with little food value to our local insects. We buy plants that have been treated with systemic insecticides. So what can we do to?

Make a commitment to change our ways. Plant for pollinators! Reduce or, better yet, eliminate the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that harm these insects. Use organic methods to control problems. Change your gardening practices and your mindset.

Plant single-flowered rather than double-flowered plants. If a flower doesn't smell or produce seed, plant something else that does. Plant herbs such as dill, thyme, tarragon and oregano. Plant fruiting species instead of or in addition to your shrubs.

Use native plants (don't dig from the wild); there are mail-order businesses that specialize in these plants. Native plant and insect species evolved together; the further removed plants are from those specific relationships, the less supportive they are of local insects.

Ask your nurseries and the places where you buy plants if they use or their growers use systemic pesticides. If so, avoid those plants. To help you Beltrami Master Gardeners have prepared a list of good species to grow; it is available at local nurseries and the Bemidji Library. These are lovely plants that will enhance your yards.

Stop killing dandelions and other flowering plants in your lawn; these are the first foods that many bees need when they come out of hibernation, hungry after the long winter.

Ninety-three species visit dandelions. Don't be so quick to kill; insecticides are indiscriminate. In war, they call that the law of unintended consequences; the good often die with the bad.

Plant species that bloom early in spring, throughout the summer and as late into the fall as possible. Plant flowers and grasses of differing heights. Allow those caterpillars to eat garden plants; they turn into butterflies. Provide shallow water sources, mud puddles and flat, sun-drenched rocks for butterflies. Leave some brushy areas for shelter. In the natural world, neatness is not next to godliness.

We can provide havens for insects that help feed us and beautify our world. We can assure the next generation and teach it to enjoy and care for our world. Children can teach us to enjoy and see the world from their shorter vantage point where insects abound. Let's learn to look and see and care.

Reference the University Of Minnesota Extension Service website, www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/, for more information on horticultural topics. In addition, local Master Gardeners will again answer your questions on home horticulture. Call (218) 444-7916, leave your name, number and question and you will receive a return call.

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