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You Can Grow It: Helping pollinators survive in local gardens

As Idahoans jump into gardening this spring, there are a few things to consider incorporating in your landscape to help some endangered pollinator friends.

BOISE, Idaho — Spring is finally here, and while it is off to a slow start with ongoing cool, wet weather, it will not be long before drier and milder weather arrives. Honeybees and monarch butterflies – essential pollinators for gardens – will also arrive soon.

Honeybees begin looking for new homes in April, so you may even run across a swarm of bees. On the first You Can Grow It of the season, KTVB Garden Master Jim Duthie explains bee swarms and simple things Idahoans can do in gardens to help bees and butterflies survive and flourish.

A successful garden depends a good deal on the little pollinators that flutter and buzz around plants, and so does a lot the nation's food supply. As you get started with your garden this spring, you may want to consider how to incorporate some things into your landscape that will help some of our endangered pollinator friends.

For years, there has been a drastic decline in the global honeybee population. The widespread use of pesticides – combined with natural effects of local severe weather, disease and invasive predators like the varroa bee mites – have reduced bee colonies by as much as 50% in the last decade.

When you start gardening this spring, you can help the local recovery by growing plants that attract and feed the bees. They love herbs like lavender and sage, as well as flowering bushes and trees. Bees rely on the nectar that they collect for their food and along the way, they pick up pollen from the blossoms and flowers, and spread them from plant-to-plant, which leads to the production of fruits and vegetables.

Another way to help the pollinators is by backing off on the use of pesticides and weed killers, and instead trying some organic and natural means for pest control.

Consider having your own set of beehives on your property. Beekeeping is a popular hobby, and you get the added benefits of increased pollination, as well as delicious home-grown honey. Be sure to check for any local ordinances and restrictions on beekeeping where you live.

A great resource for beekeeping information and support locally is the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club. If you happen to run across a beehive, or if bees are swarming near your yard, do not hurt the bees. Call the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club and they will gladly come and collect the bees and give them a new safe home.

As mentioned, the monarch butterfly is another beautiful pollinator that happens to be Idaho's state insect. Their numbers have also been plummeting in recent years.

Droughts, pesticides, weed killers and the loss of habitat are the main reasons for the monarch's decline in the western US.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of a necessary food source – the milkweed. Monarchs need milkweed and it is the only thing that young monarch caterpillars – which transform into butterflies – will eat. However, these plants have been disappearing rapidly, eradicated from farm fields and public lands by weed killers and land development.

So, how can Gem State gardeners help the monarch? By planting some milkweed. It is not invasive, and it produces tall stalks with pretty pink flowers. 

The monarchs will lay their eggs on the milkweed and when they hatch, the monarch caterpillars will eat the milkweed leaves. Do not worry, they will not eat anything else in your garden.

The Save Our Monarchs Foundation is a non-profit group that can provide gardeners with all of the necessary information, as well as milkweed seeds to grow. 

A local monarch conservation project associated with the College of Western Idaho can also help provide guidance and suggestions on how you can help monarchs recover here in Idaho.

As long as you are gardening, why not do these few simple things to help our friends – the honeybees and the monarch butterflies? We need them as much as they need us, and these are great projects for the whole family. 

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