Pollinators play a vital role in our ecosystems and our daily lives, but they are under threat worldwide. This may seem like a big issue to tackle, but there are several practical ways that your kids can help pollinators.
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What are pollinators?
Pollinators are animals (insects, birds, small mammals) that play a part in moving pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part of the same or another flower — the first step in the process that produces seeds, fruits, and more plants.
When most people think of pollinators, they picture bees and butterflies. (And they’re not wrong!) But the list of pollinators is actually much longer!
- birds (e.g., hummingbirds, baltimore orioles)
- flies (e.g., syrphid flies, flower flies, midges)
- small mammals (e.g., bats in tropical and desert climates)
Why should kids help pollinators? Why are they important?
Pollinators help pollinate between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants on earth. And it is estimated that we owe 1 out of every 3 bites of our food to pollinators. Without them, we might not have bananas, avocadoes, vanilla, strawberries, almonds, cacao (chocolate!), coffee… (the list goes on and on).
Pollinators also contribute to the overall health of ecosystems, allowing plant reproduction, genetic diversity, and food and shelter for other animals.
making a contribution
How can kids help pollinators?
Now that we understand their importance (beyond saving the future of chocolate), what are some practical ways kids help pollinators?
Kids love animals and they love to help, so let’s put their passion for nature to good use!
N. B. — Much of the information below is also found in our post, 7 Ways Kids Can Help Save Native Bee Populations. (Native bees are, after all, pollinators too!)
Plant with pollinators in mind.
Instead of choosing flowers simply because they look pretty, consider the value they might have for pollinators. Whether you’re planting a specialized “pollinator garden” or just improving your landscape, choosing native flowering plants that support pollinators. Provide them with sufficient foraging habitat with sources of nectar and pollen.
1. Choose native plants.
Pollinators have adapted to local, native plants over time, and these plants best meet their needs.
“Pollinators have evolved with native plants, which are best adapted to the local growing season, climate, and soils. Most pollinators feed on specific plant species — hummingbirds sip nectar from long, tubular honeysuckle flowers, while green sweat bees prefer more open-faced sunflowers. Non-native plants may not provide pollinators with enough nectar or pollen, or may be inedible to butterfly or moth caterpillars.” (usda.gov)
The Xerces Society offers a wonderful library of (North American) region-specific lists of native plants for pollinators here. This list also includes region-specific lists for monarch nectar plants.
2. Plant in clusters.
For better foraging efficiency, plant each flower species in clusters.
3. Plant for continuous bloom, spring through fall.
You can provide pollinators a steady supply of pollen and nectar by planting common yarrow for the late spring and summer, purple coneflower for the summer, and new england aster for the late summer and fall.
4. Choose a variety of plants.
To meet the needs of a variety of pollinators, choose flowers in different shapes, sizes and colors. Not all flowers are equally attractive to all species (e.g., deep/complex flowers vs. open flowers), so providing a variety will meet the needs of a greater number of pollinators.
In addition to flowering plants, also consider grasses, shrubs and trees, which also provide food and habitat to pollinators. If you’ve studied the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly, you may remember that monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves. Make sure that milkweed is on your list!
You can find more information on creating a pollinator garden here.
Pesticides are one of the biggest threats to pollinator populations. Although you may not be involved in agricultural policy, there are still a few things you can do to help by using good practices at home:
5. Choose pesticide-free plants.
When purchasing plants, check to see if they are free from pesticides.
6. Try companion planting.
Experiment with companion planting, using plants that help deter pests (e.g., marigolds) or act as trap crops (e.g., nasturtiums)
7. Avoid herbicides.
Instead of using weed sprays, learn to pick weeds from their roots and investigate other alternatives. Many weed killers are dangerous not only to insect life but could potentially pose health hazards as well.
8. Avoid insecticides.
Try different forms of natural insect control (e.g., citrus or beer traps). Instead of spraying for mosquitoes, start by eliminating any standing water near your home.
Offer a water source.
Having access to water is important for pollinators, as they need it for purposes such as drinking, cooling and reproduction. If you don’t have a natural water source nearby, you can create one.
9. Make a pollinator “bath”.
- Leave out a shallow dish of water with semi-submerged stones for pollinators to rest and take a drink
- Choose stones that aren’t too smooth or slippery.
- Change the water regularly (especially when mosquito are breeding).
Offer sheltering and nesting sites.
In addition to sources of pollen and nectar, pollinators also benefit from other garden features.
10. Leave a few dead branches and logs in your yard.
These provide places for chrysalis to hang, or potential sites for nesting bees.
11. Leave areas of bare ground.
Instead of covering all bare ground with mulch or landscape fabric, leave some of it bare. Many native solitary bees build their nests underground!
12. Let it grow.
Let the dandelions and clover grow, turning a portion of your yard into a more meadow-like setting. (“Your landscaping fails are actually great for pollinators.“)
13. Make a sign.
Increase awareness (and explain your “messy lawn”) by making a sign for all who pass. “Please pardon the weeds, we’re feeding the bees” or “Pollinator-Friendly Garden”.
14. Build a bee hotel.
Native bees don’t live in beehives! Provide a nesting place for native solitary bees by building a bee hotel. See full instructions here!
Help protect their habitat.
Habitat loss is a central reason for the decline of pollinator populations. If kids want to help pollinators, they can start with their “homes”.
15. Help conserve habitat.
Support organizations helping to protect open space and pollinators’ habitats (e.g., grasslands).
16. Help restore habitat.
Check with local preserves and volunteer for habitat restoration projects.
17. Spread the word
Encourage friends and neighbors to join you in planting native pollinator-friendly gardens.
Keep learning about pollinators!
18. Ask the experts.
Visit nature centers and see what they have to teach you about pollinators.
19. Read all about it.
For kids who want to help pollinators, one step is to learn more about them and their relationship to the world around us. Read books about pollinators and share what you’ve learned with friends and family.
If Bees Disappeared, Lily Williams
ages 4-8 years
What would happen if bees disappeared completely? This book helps highlight the importance of bees and their far-reaching effects on our daily lives.
ages 4-8 years
This book includes facts and activities to help your kids learn all about the power of pollination.
Animal Pollinators, Jennifer Boothroyd
ages 5-8 years
Perfect for beginner readers, this book reminds us that pollinators aren’t limited to bees and butterflies!
Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate, Sara Levine
ages 8-11 years
This books teaches kids how flowers use color to “talk” to pollinators, enticing just the right ones to come and help move their pollen.
Flowers are Calling, Rita Gray
ages 4-7 years
This rhyming picture book talks about how flowers “call” to all animals, but only the right ones respond — showing the important cooperation between plants, insects and animals.
Wear your message
20. Spread the message through fashion.
If your kids are interesting in helping save the planet, if they love bees and butterflies, or if they love strawberries and chocolate, they might just be interested in helping preserve pollen-pushing animals. We’ve listed several ways kids can help save and protect pollinators… Which one will they try first?