Gardening for Pollinators with Native Plants - TribPapers

Gardening for Pollinators with Native Plants

Native plants are necessary to help pollinators thrive.

Western North Carolina – A massive decline in pollinators rocked the world over the past few years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted an article by Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy stating “Without pollinators, we don’t eat—it’s simple as that—and, at the moment, large numbers of pollinators are dying. That is bad news for us with the world’s population projected to exceed nine billion in just the next 30 years or so.

More than 90 species of U.S. specialty crops require pollination. Various animals, including bees, butterflies, moths, bats and birds are a critical part of the pollinator-plant ecosystem. Despite the myriad species of pollinators available, American farmers rely on one species of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, for most of the pollinator services to pollinate their crops. Wild and managed bees together add $15 billion in crop value each year,” according to the USDA.

Many of the world’s pollinators are simply unable to survive after being doused with insecticides and other pesticides. The majority of corn, soybeans and other food crop seeds are coated with toxic pesticides—the most common being Neonicotinoids. Many seeds and flowers marketed as “bee-friendly” at garden centers are also contaminated with systemic chemicals. Have you followed any of the Round-Up lawsuits and settlements? Perhaps it is time to reflect and make changes in your own garden and yard. Maybe it is time to plant more native plants, have a smaller lawn area, and quit using pesticides. 

Ruth Gonzalez, Marketing Director for Reems Creek Nursery, reflected on how some plant vendors are changing their pest management practices to sustain pollinators. 

“Reems Creek Nursery does not use neonicotinoid insecticides on any of the plants we grow on our Propagation Farm because of their detrimental effect on pollinators. At our Garden Center, we strive to monitor the growing practices of our other plant sources and seek those using best practices,” Gonzalez said. 

By being more mindful and aware of the situation, the national and global decline of pollinators could possibly be slowed or—dare I say —even stopped.  

Working on Solutions

Throughout the area, pollinator gardens are continually planted as more people become aware of the situation. The thinking is slowly changing to incorporate pollinator plants into the landscape. 

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation has a “statewide conservation restoration initiative that aims to restore native pollinator habitats to areas impacted by urbanization, land-use change and agriculture across North Carolina.” 

This is the Butterfly Highway—the NCWF is seeking North Carolinians to register and join the Butterfly Highway network.  In addition, city projects, schools, individuals and various garden clubs are dedicating areas to plants that are beneficial and provide food and habitat for a diversity of pollinators. Many garden centers are now offering many native plants for sale. Would you be surprised to learn that the New Belgium Brewery has incorporated a pollinator-friendly landscape? On Saturday, June 5th in fact a Milkweed Planting Day is planned by Asheville Greenworks at Hominy Creek Greenway, where 500 plants will be planted to support the Monarch Butterflies. Native Milkweed plants are the host plants for monarch eggs, a source of food for young caterpillars and a nectar source for migrating Monarch adults.

There are currently 66 Certified Native Pollinator Gardens in Western North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Asheville Greenworks.

Bee City USA® and Asheville Greenworks

 Locally, both Asheville and Hendersonville are Bee City USA® affiliates. The NC Arboretum, UNC-A and Blue Ridge Community College are Bee City Campuses. Bee City USA® and Bee Campus USA work to galvanize communities to sustain pollinators, the more than 3,600 species of native bees in this country, by increasing the abundance of native plants, providing nest sites and reducing the use of pesticides. 

Phyllis Stiles, founder of BeeCity USA®–now a part of the highly reputable Xerces Society–says, “Bee City USA®’s goal is, and always has been, a paradigm shift in our landscaping practices from those that suppress insects, including pollinators–by featuring nonnative plants that often require more pest management, toward ecological landscaping that attempts to replicate what our environment has been doing naturally for millennia. By doing so, we have a small chance of reversing the massive pollinator declines we face globally.”  

Through Stiles’ efforts, the Bee City USA® program now has 253 affiliates (32 of them in North Carolina) in 43 states, all committed to helping reverse precipitous pollinator declines. 

Asheville GreenWorks has a mission to inspire, equip, and mobilize individuals and communities to take care of the places where they live. Through community-based, volunteer-led environmental conservation projects and education programs,​ Asheville Greenworks, together with volunteers, work to enhance the environment and quality of life for all residents of Asheville and Buncombe County. The organization has many programs to encourage landscape stewardship, including a Native Pollinator Garden Certification Program.  

Task Force of Experts

On behalf of Asheville GreenWorks’ Bee City USA Leadership Committee, Phyllis Stiles convened a task force of some of Western North Carolina’s foremost experts on regionally native plants and landscaping with natives to update Asheville’s Bee City USA® recommended plant list. One of their tasks was to ensure that each plant on the list is truly native to Western North Carolina, meaning it was living in our mountains before colonization. 

Native plants and pollinators have co-evolved over millennia, each adapting its anatomy and bloom (for plants) or active time (for pollinators) to the other. In fact, more than 25 percent of the world’s 20,000 bee species will only collect pollen for their young from a select family, genus, or (rarely) single species of plants. If a pollen specialist bee emerges as an adult when her “host” plant is not blooming, what will that bee mom feed her offspring?  This one example of pollinator ecology is illustrative of why we need a great diversity of native plants in our landscapes to cater to a great diversity of pollinators throughout the growing season. No one yard can satisfy all their needs, but by integrating the right plants, neighborhoods and cities can!   The complete recommended Pollinator-Friendly Species List is available on the Asheville GreenWorks website at 

Eric Bradford, Director of Operations for Asheville GreenWorks, said, “I’m especially excited about the expanded tree list that recognizes the value of trees as hosts to butterfly and moth caterpillars, and pollen sources for bees, even if the tree is pollinated by the wind. We just hope the community will use this list to welcome pollinators to public and private lands all around us.”

Photo by Phyllis Stiles.

National Pollinator Week June 19th-27th

With National Pollinator Week coming up this June, there are ample opportunities to learn about native plants, how they help, where you can find them, and how to grow them. Carolina Native Nursery, Reems Creek Nursery and Asheville Greenworks have a number of events planned.  There will be zoom workshops, a pollinator photo contest and a pollinator BioBlitz, amongst other activities.  More information on these can be found on the website,

Hendersonville too is drawing attention to the importance of pollinators.  A large Bee Mural on the exterior walls at Hands On! Children’s Museum building painted by Matt Willey in Downtown Hendersonville was officially dedicated on May 13th. On June 5th at the Historic Train Depot, the Hendersonville Farmers Market is holding a Pollinator Day from 8 am to 1 pm.  All sorts of activities and games for children are planned.  Free packets of pollinator-friendly seeds, as well as tips for planting them, will be available.  The Henderson County Center of the NC Cooperative Extension is offering a Zoom Pollination class online on June 17th. Dr. Steve Pettis, the Horticulture Agent, will instruct the class on ways to identify pollinating insects in the landscape, along with other helpful information.  The cost is $10; call to register (828)697-4891.

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