Decatur, Georgia, makes sure to keep it fun! Their theme for the Mardi Gras Parade was "Laissez Les Bee-Temps Rouler!" Their 12 costumed marchers pulled two bee-themed floats and passed out more than 500 pieces of literature that both announced their upcoming National Pollinator Week celebration as well as provided a list of bee-friendly yard practices and plants. At the judge’s reviewing stand, Beecatur presented a brief skit about the deadly effects of residential mosquito spraying on pollinators. They even took home the prize for “Best Costumes."
Who likes writing annual reports? Honestly? Probably very few of us. But here's the rub. If you do some wonderful things, but nobody documents them, did they really ever happen? Okay, so maybe the people directly involved will remember some of them, for a year or two, but no one will remember all of them.
Ever stumbled on an old college paper you wrote when you were cleaning out a closet and been astounded at how smart you sounded? What if you hadn't found that paper; would you remember that you once knew a fair amount about some obscure topic? I certainly wouldn't—and didn't when that happened to me.
Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA Annual Renewal Reports Are Treasure Troves
The fact is, we are receiving information at hyperspeeds these days, and were it not for their annual renewal reports, the pollinator conservation work Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates are doing might be forgotten. We so appreciate the effort it takes for affiliates to share that information with us each year for numerous reasons. As national program managers, we learn how affiliates are engaging their communities in conserving pollinators, and often discover great ideas that other affiliates could replicate. Take the seed collection and giveaway programs that Portland State University and UNC Asheville do. And how about the pollinator garden certification and annual guided tour programs in Ashland and Talent, Oregon? Seattle, Washington's committee is a broad-based coalition of city department representatives and nonprofits that enhances habitat under utility lines, at the airport, in volunteer-managed patches; and works with the University of Washington and Washington State University to monitor how their habitat augmentation is impacting bee diversity. South Dakota State University, Mineral Area College in Missouri, and Greenwood, South Carolina, grow their own native plants for their pollinator gardens. Morehead State University in Kentucky teaches students to identify pollen in honey.
The Hillsborough, North Carolina, Tree Board also serves as the Bee City USA committee. They teamed up with the garden club and the City of Hillsborough to establish numerous pollinator gardens, promote gardening with native plants, and write and publish monthly articles about gardening for pollinators.
Annual reports are helping us assemble best practices and guide Bee City USA's resource and educational efforts, but they are also providing institutional memory for affiliates. It's easy to get caught up in planting pollinator gardens and hosting events, and not documenting any of that work. In Asheville, where Bee City USA started, our AmeriCorps member established a fantastic pollinator garden at a city park several years ago and continued to maintain it for three years after she left the AmeriCorps position. If she hadn't contacted me a few days ago to ask if I could locate a replacement volunteer to maintain it, I might have forgotten it entirely.
Now that Bee City USA is seven years old, affiliate staff and volunteers are experiencing turnovers for all of the reasons you'd expect—relocation, new jobs, retirement, illness. And their replacements are asking us to educate them on what was done in the past. When they do, we share all of the annual reports we have. Most affiliates proudly post their annual reports on their own Bee City or Bee Campus web pages and share the reports with their volunteers and communities to remind them of everything they accomplished together the previous year.
Need a Little Lift?
Many of the reports on 2018 are already published on our website. Soon, we should have all reports for last year's accomplishments published. You can read Bee City reports here and Bee Campus reports here.
Whenever you need a little lift, we hope you will take a few moments to read some of the reports. Despite the busy lives we all lead, people across America are finding the time, mostly as volunteers, to welcome pollinating bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, beetles, wasps, bats, and flies into their yards, traffic islands, parks, school yards, church parking lots, businesses and roadsides. They are telling their neighbors how they can integrate native plants into their landscaping and reduce herbicide, insecticide and fungicide use and say hello to the magical creatures that enable nearly ninety percent of the world's flowering plant species to reproduce. (Glorious blossoms and fruits aren't so bad either.)
By Phyllis Stiles, Pollinator Champion & Founder of Bee City USA (2012), an initiative of the Xerces Society since 2018
An initiative of the Xerces Society, Bee City USA's conservation work is powered by our donors.
Your tax deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
Passover, Easter, Earth Day, honey bee swarm season, World Bee Day, preparation for National Pollinator Week in June, and more! What's NOT happening in spring?
Every time I look out my window or walk outside, I can barely contain myself. The planet seems to be shedding its winter clothes and loudly inhaling and exhaling to ooze millions of shades of lush green colors. One day nothing seems to be happening with one of our flame azaleas, and the next day it's awash in glorious blossoms. If it makes me feel almost drunk and giddy, what must the pollinators be feeling?
How about America's 40+ species of fuzzy bumble bees? Mated bumble queens hid away all winter and are now building up their few hundred-strong colonies of worker bees. You can report your sightings to Bumble Bee Watch, a community science project that is working to broaden our understanding of bumble bee distribution and will inform future conservation efforts.
Have your mason bees been checking out of your bee hotels? Are those newly emerged mason mothers now provisioning tunnel cells for offspring they will never see?
Have you seen any monarch butterflies or hummingbirds migrating northward? You can report your sightings at Journey North and witness the migration progressing up the continent.
How about the ground nesting mining or digger bees? Seventy per cent of the world's 20,000 bee species nest in the ground! Following Portland, Oregon's Sabin Elementary "tickle bees" has become a Xerces tradition.
Bees and other pollinators make great neighbors, even in urban areas! Positive stories of pollinator species returning after decades-long absences let us know that if we provide habitat, there's hope that they will return. The silver digger bees' return to San Francisco's Presidio was a recent one. In an interesting twist, the Presidio is actually the last known habitat of the Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), for which the Xerces Society is named. Although it’s too late for the Xerces blue, we are pleased to hear that the Presidio’s habitat is recovering enough to support more pollinators!
As I have fallen in love with ever-fascinating and diverse pollinators this past decade, the year is increasingly measured by the arrival of the pollinator of the season. This spring, I fully intend to witness my first busy leafcutter bee trimming off a leaf medallion to wallpaper her nursery! What's your pollinator-watching goal for 2019?
By Phyllis Stiles, Pollinator Champion & Founder of Bee City USA (2012). Bee City USA has been an initiative of the Xerces Society since 2018
Bee City USA is an initiative of the Xerces Society and Xerces’ conservation work
is powered by our donors. Your tax deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
As the days grow brighter and the grass greener, most of us experience some measure of spring fever. Here are five things Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can do to take advantage of that primal urge to grab a shovel!
1. Tell your community that urban and suburban landscapes matter.
The National Pollinator Garden Network (with which Bee City USA and the Xerces Society are partners) announced vastly exceeding the goal of one million pollinator gardens on February 27. In the announcement, they referenced a growing body of research showing significant impact from small scale gardens. While honey bees usually fly in about a three-mile radius from their hives, some native bees have very small home ranges and may fly as little as 500 feet from where they emerge as adults. Therefore, they need a succession of flowers nearby throughout the growing season. Bee taxonomist for the US Geological Survey and coauthor of Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World, Sam Droege said, “A little goes a long way. Homeowners should think of their gardens as restitution. Most American gardens have access to a hundred species of bees. Indeed, Prince George’s County, Maryland, hosts 260 bee species in contrast to the entire United Kingdom which hosts only 250 bee species. In some cases, when we plant a diversity of native plants, we can attract even more pollinator species than may have been there before.”
2. Promote the recommended native wildflower and tree species list that Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates commit to create and disseminate.
Pollinators co-evolved over thousands to millions of years with native plants for their mutual benefit. By planting exotic trees, shrubs, and plants that are often unrecognizable or unpalatable as food to many native pollinators, we have degraded pollinators’ food sources. Making your community more pollinator-friendly starts with incorporating a diversity of native flowering plants. Many trees, shrubs and grasses that don’t even flower act as larval hosts for hungry butterfly and moth caterpillars. Others offer nectar—a pollinator’s carbohydrate—for native bees, moths, beetles, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and their pollen provides bees with essential protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
3. Promote growers and retailers that sell native plants.
Pollinator advocates can ardently encourage the public to plant natives, but if those plants are not available for purchase, the public can’t plant them. Nurseries are businesses, and businesses need customers to buy their products or services. Since the nurseries that supply native plants are often very small, their tolerance for risk is smaller than larger businesses. If they’re selling trees and shrubs, they have to plan several years ahead before the tree or shrub matures enough to sell. Likewise, if they sell perennials, they don’t want to have to overwinter them if they don’t sell. If you want to be able to find native plants, it’s important to support those local nurseries and retailers. Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can promote nursery openings and spring plant sales, and highlight the pollinators to be supported by certain native plants. Guest editorials, letters to the editor, news stories, E-newsletters, emails, and social media posts can bring the customers those growers and retailers need to survive. The more people ask for particular native plants, the greater the chance the growers will propagate them for the next season. We also recommend using the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Seed Finder and Pollinator Conservation Resource Center to locate, support, and celebrate vendors near you!
4. Host and promote planting and habitat enhancement events.
Today, four out of five people live in urban areas. While individual yards may seem too small to help imperiled pollinators, a University of Chicago study showed that 4493 small gardens in Chicago totaled 51 acres. They also found the highest pollinator visitation in the neighborhoods with the highest human density. (Lowenstein, et al, 2014). Just because a plant species will grow in a certain planting zone doesn’t mean it should be planted where it’s not native. Even though flower generalists like honey bees and bumble bees can forage non-native invasive species like kudzu and privet, we urge you to remove them whenever possible to make room for the natives. You can also help native pollinators by planting fruit trees; herbs like mint, oregano, parsley, and lavender; or flowering annuals like old-fashioned cosmos, zinnias and single sunflowers. A diversity of plants attracts a diversity of pollinators, and supports biodiversity generally.
5. Take the mullet approach!
If your neighborhood has rigid landscaping rules, make it business in the front and party in the back! Mulch areas of the front yard neatly to provide habitat for ground nesters, and go more natural in your side and back yards. Use the “edge effect” around beds or natural areas to give the appearance of tidiness and integrate an attractive sign in your yard to let your neighbors know your landscaping may look a little different because you are inviting pollinators.
In short, if we take care of the pollinators, they will take care of us. Happy gardening!
Author’s Note: Sam Droege is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.
Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors.
Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
Most of us picture blooming meadows when we think of pollinator habitat. While wildflowers are essential for supplying nectar and pollen, a small bee must expend enormous energy to fly to flowers strewn across a landscape. In contrast, a single blooming tree offers a flower feast. To highlight this point, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign’s annual poster for 2016 was “Trees for Bees.”
Bee Culture Magazine recently ran an article about the importance of hedgerows and trees—still an agricultural norm as late as the early 1900s—for providing pollinator forage, as well as nesting and overwintering habitat. The Xerces Society wrote this article about the benefits of hedgerows in farm landscapes in 2016.
“The advent of industrial agriculture after World War II radically changed the landscape,” said Dave Goulson, founder of the UK’s Bumblebee Conservation Trust and author of A Sting in the Tale. “Flower-filled hayfields were replaced by green, flowerless silage fields, traditional crop rotations were largely abandoned, and small fields bounded by hedgerows were merged into massive mono-cropped fields that rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Around the globe, industrial agriculture has eliminated once abundant habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.”
The Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program was launched in 1976 to raise awareness of the importance of urban tree canopies and create local systems for maintaining them. During its formation in 2011, Bee City USA drew inspiration from Tree City USA, reasoning that if the Tree City USA program could help urban and suburban areas institutionalize efforts to enhance urban tree canopies, the same organizing principles could be applied to reversing pollinator declines in those areas.
The consequences of declining tree populations are legion, including profound ramifications for pollinators. As important as tree and shrub flowers are for feeding bees and other pollinators, even wind-pollinated and non-flowering trees and shrubs frequently serve as caterpillar host plants and nesting sites for the world’s 17,500+ butterfly and 160,000+ moth species. Entomologist Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, said, “Native oaks alone support more than 500 species of butterflies and moths, in contrast to exotic gingko trees from Asia that support virtually no American caterpillars.”
Most people associate trees with birds, but Arbor Day is also an excellent occasion for educating your community about the butterfly and moth caterpillars their tree canopy supports, and the vital role most adult lepidoptera play not only in pollination, but also the role they play during their caterpillar stage in feeding ninety per cent of young land birds. Tallamy said, “A single clutch of chickadees will eat 6000-9000 caterpillars before they leave the nest.” Tallamy collaborated with the National Wildlife Federation to create a Native Plant Finder that links plants in your zip code to the butterfly and moth caterpillars they support.
National Arbor Day is April 26, 2019. There are endless reasons for planting trees, not the least of which are storing carbon and oxygenating the air we breathe. This year, consider celebrating Arbor Day by planting fruit and other trees to offer meadows in the sky for our fuzzy little friends and food for hungry caterpillars. Visit Xerces’ regional plant lists page and Bee City USA’s Create Habitat page for tips on selecting species that are native to your area.
When thinking about planting trees for bees it is also good to think about how managing trees can affect bees, in particular insecticide treatments. A major Bee City USA commitment for certification is administering an informed integrated pest management program. The goal is to prevent pest problems, but when they arise, to address them in a way that least harms pollinators. The now infamous massive bumble bee kill caused by spraying blooming linden trees in a retail parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon, in 2013 is a sobering reminder of how tree treatments impact pollinators. The silver lining to this incident is that it led to a ban on treating linden trees with several neonicotinoid products in Oregon and spurred new pest management policies and practices in many cities across the nation. Wilsonville even became a Bee City USA affiliate in 2017!
Author’s Note: Douglas Tallamy is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.
If you’re interested in pollinator conservation policy at the local, state, national, or international level, you may want to read a groundbreaking report in Environmental Science and Policy. Dr. Damon Hall is Assistant Professor at the School of Natural Resources in the Department of Biomedical, Biological & Chemical Engineering, at the University of Missouri (affectionately known as Mizzou), a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate since 2016. Hall teamed up with Rebecca Steiner of Saint Louis University to publish, “Insect Pollinator Conservation Policy Innovations: Lessons for Lawmakers.”
Until February 24, 2019, anyone can download the report for free using the author’s link:
The report provides a content analysis of 109 insect pollinator policies passed by U.S. state-level legislatures from 2000 to 2017—notably both before and then after publicity about colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid insecticides, and highly-visible bee kills. Thirty-six states passed between one and nine laws each that fit into six categories: 1) Laws tightening apicultural management: bees as livestock; 2) Evolving views of bees as beneficial insects: laws to review pesticides; 3) Addressing pollinator declines: task forces on pollinator health; 4) Creating and managing habitats for pollinators; 5) Policy for increasing awareness of insect pollinators; and, 6) Research for insect pollinators.
From a positive perspective, these state level actions often bridge political divides and are predictors of what’s to come at the national and international levels. Moreover, they show lawmakers are increasingly seeing pollinators as beneficial insects which changes how lawmakers address pesticides.
The authors organized the laws into a searchable database, characterizing policy trends and documenting the spectrum of policy innovations. Hall says, “These 109 new laws cover apiculture, pesticides, pollinator awareness, pollinator habitat, and research. Together, they narrate an evolution of bureaucratic thinking on insects.”
Perhaps the most comprehensive habitat protection signed into law (MN HF976, 2013) is Minnesota’s Pollinator Habitat Program, requiring the Commissioner of Agriculture to develop best management practices and habitat restoration guidelines for pollinator habitat enhancement, and report to the agriculture and natural resource legislative committee. The report, developed in collaboration with the Pollution Control Agency, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and representatives of the University of Minnesota, must include proposals for establishing a “pollinator bank” to preserve pollinator species, creating “pollinator nesting and foraging habitat…including establishment of pollinator reserves or refuges,” and "provide criteria to evaluate neonicotinoid pesticides."
As Americans complain that the government is often gridlocked at the national level, Hall says, “I wanted to see the actual points of agreement at state levels around insect pollinator conservation. In so doing, we could argue that these more than 100 policies passed by state legislatures constitute points of consensus worth exploring for national policies and international agreements. After all, sustaining pollinators crosses rural and urban, and left and right, divides.”
Across the country, individuals and communities are realizing how vital it is to sustain pollinators. In honor of the Winter Solstice, a time of reflection, we asked Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates for their favorite pollinator conservation highlight from 2018. Here are some of their responses.
Delta College, University Center, Michigan - Linda A. Petee, Sustainability & Risk Management Coordinator
"Delta College was honored to join Bee Campus USA this year as the first and only Michigan-certified campus! With the support of the campus community, our Pollinator Alliance Team designated a section of our natural area to develop as a bee habitat trail. We’re excited to plan plantings, interpretive signage, student club projects, community-learning activities, and tours."
Talent, Oregon - Dolly Warden, Chair, Bee City USA Talent Committee
"The most gratifying experience Bee City USA Talent had this year occurred on the 5th of December when the Talent City Council unanimously approved the proposed Integrated Pest Management Report and Recommendation. We first began working on the goal of an Integrated Pest Management Policy in March of 2014, so it has been almost five years. Although many people are responsible for the final outcome, it was Jim Thompson's persistence that saw it to the finish."
Garden City, Idaho - Judy Snow, Chair, Bee City USA - Garden City Committee
"The highlight of the year for me was visiting our pollinator garden and observing the hundreds (thousands?) of bees and other pollinators who showed up in only its second year. It was truly amazing to see the bees of all shapes and sizes, butterflies and hummingbirds visiting the flowers. We had leafcutter bees make their home in our bee boxes and observed solitary bee homes in the ground. It has proven to me that....If you build it, they will come!"
San Francisco, California - Peter Brastow, Senior Environmental Specialist, Nature, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, San Francisco Department of Environment
"In light of the ongoing insect apocalypse and the continuing racial and economic inequity in access to nature, we are working to meet both conservation and justice goals by piloting the installation of a local native plant landscape in a workforce development model at affordable housing sites in San Francisco."
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio - Danielle Trevino, Biological Scientist
"My most inspirational moment was from one of our smaller projects…a monarch waystation we planted with the children from the base youth center in the spring. The kids have taken such great care of it and now have a genuine interest the habitat and the many pollinators that call it home. It was such a small thing, but it is a reminder that big changes start with small steps."
Norcross, Georgia - Mike Brose, Sustainable Norcross Committee
"When I received the signed resolution, I was happy to know that the City of Norcross is now beehav’n!"
Carrboro, North Carolina - Laura Janway, Environmental Planner
"As a new member of Carrboro Town staff, I was excited to see the Town and community’s commitment to pollinators through current and future pollinator gardens, installations of native bee nesting boxes, and educational outreach. I am inspired by the dedication from Bee Cities across the country and hope to keep up the momentum in 2019."
Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Georgia - Jennifer Kraft Leavey, Ph.D., Principal Academic Professional, College of Sciences
"My favorite urban pollinator-related moment of the year was getting a call about a "swarm" of bees on an island of grass in the middle of a giant parking lot on the campus of Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta. When I got there the island was covered in mining bee nests that look like little ant hills. Just above there were a cloud of these precious solitary bees working on creating the next generation of mining bees. By the next week you couldn't even tell they had been there."
Hillsborough , North Carolina - Stephanie Trueblood, Public Space Manager
"My favorite pollinator moment this year was the day when the swallowtail caterpillars showed up on our bronze fennel. I had heard from friends that they had arrived but our plants were empty. My kids and I checked our garden every day for more than a week and then SURPRISE, one morning we found 10 happy fat caterpillars munching away. We were thrilled.:)"
Orland, California - Pete Carr, City Manager
"Our OktoBEEfest drew 200 people and netted $5400 for the Bee city committee to spend on education and outreach. The Glenn County Fair 2018 theme was "What's all the Buzz about?" The city is purchasing real property as the future site of Honeybee Discovery Center."
Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington - Chuck Faulkinberry, Director, Hemmingson Center, GUEST, Auxiliary Enterprises
"This fall we held our now annual harvest and wintering event. We brought in a hand cranked extractor and let each student take a turn that was in attendance. Much like when I was little when we made ice cream on my grandfather’s porch in the summer. Each student was eager to crank and felt some ownership in the extraction. It is a great way to get students involved and everyone walked away with a small honey bear for their efforts."
Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania - Cody Rosenbarker, Sustainability Learning Coordinator
"The Center for Sustainability Education hosted an event where students brought in our native bee homes for the winter. We found mason bees and leaf-cutter bees had used our homes as well as some that we couldn’t identify. Although it seems like the mason bees had already been parasitized, we’re looking forward to putting them all out in the spring and see what comes out to pollinate our gardens!"
Central Community College, Grand Island, Nebraska - Ben Newton, Environmental Sustainability Director
"Organizing our First Annual Pollinator Festival brought in a diverse mix of dedicated insect and native plant fans that I previously did not know existed! We even had a band that were also beekeepers playing at the festival while young children enjoyed honey ice cream. Our first full season of a new pollinator garden on campus was worth all the sweat and pain of pulling sand burrs by staff and students!"
Denton, Texas - Sarah Luxton, Sustainability Coordinator
"It’s exciting to see the younger generations get enthusiastic about pollinators and take action to support them in their community. These young beekeepers and gardens can be an inspiration to us all!
Phoenix, Oregon - Sharon Schmidt, Psy.D., Cascade Girl Organization
"We created a 2,000 square foot mural in Phoenix, Oregon over the course of 36 months. It is across from a popular fast-food restaurant and has little embedded signs that say 'grow organic'. Thousands of visitors look at it daily and it raises people’s awareness of Pollinators and organic produce (inner smile!)."
Albuquerque, New Mexico - Anita Amstutz, Think Like a Bee
"Poet Saeed Jones expressed it well for me, 'It's increasingly difficult for me to vibe with people—even keen, talented people—who are salty about everything all the time. Gotta have some sweetness in this life. I believe in the intelligence of honey.'"
Carson City, Nevada - Gillian Mellor, Chair, Bee City USA - Carson City Committee
"After many happy days collecting nectar and pollen, We have safely tucked our families in their hives for their well deserved rest. Greeting them again in the new year - we are able also to rest."
Pine Lake, Georgia - Elise Witt, Member, Bee City USA - Pine Lake Committee
"I loved having my song, “Bees Make Honey,” sung to celebrate our Bee City certification in Pine Lake!"
Photos: Nancy Lee Adamson/Xerces Society
Are you mesmerized by milkweed fluff? If so, you are not alone!
If you saved your fluff, you may want to have a holiday craft session to turn it into ornaments. Buy inexpensive clear glass Christmas balls from a craft store, and working inside a large paper bag, use your finger or a pencil to stuff a lot, or a little, fluff into the ball before capping it off with the hanger. (We suggest the bag because one friend discovered the cause of her printer problems was fluff that worked its way inside the rollers!)
True fluff ornament connoisseurs insert unopened fluff in the narrow glass ball opening, much like putting a collapsed miniature ship in a bottle, but without popping it open afterward. This showcases the fluff's elegant, silky growth pattern.
After the holidays, you may want to remove any seeds in the ornaments and plant them in time to sprout before the spring monarch migration.
By Justin Wheeler, The Xerces Society
Justin Wheeler previously worked for the Xerces Society managing websites and social media, and providing graphic design, writing, and content development. As a Penn State Extension Master Gardener, Justin is engaged with education and outreach to his community on a range of gardening-related subjects such as sustainable and pollinator-friendly gardening practices.
Besides providing the right plants, and protecting your garden from pesticides, one of the next most valuable things you can do to support pollinators and other invertebrates is to provide them with the winter cover they need in the form of fall leaves and standing dead plant material. Frequently however, this is the hardest pill for gardeners to swallow.
It may be habitual, a matter of social conditioning, or a holdover of outdated gardening practices from yesteryear—but for whatever reason, we just can’t seem to help ourselves from wanting to tidy up the garden at the end of the season—raking, mowing, and blowing away a bit of nature that is essential to the survival of moths, butterflies, snails, spiders, and dozens of arthropods. That’s why this year—and every year—we are making the case for leaving the leaves and offering input on what to do with them. Read on!
Must Love Leaves
While monarch migration is a well-known phenomenon, it’s not the norm when it comes to butterflies. In fact, the vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult. In all but the warmest climates, these butterflies use leaf litter for winter cover. Great spangled fritillary and woolly bear caterpillars tuck themselves into a pile of leaves for protection from cold weather and predators. Red-banded hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of the caterpillars when they emerge. Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalis as dried leaves, blending in with the “real” leaves. There are many such examples.
Beyond butterflies, bumble bees also rely on leaf litter for protection. At the end of summer, mated queen bumble bees burrow only an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter. An extra thick layer of leaves is welcome protection from the elements. There are so many animals that live in leaves: spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites, and more—that support the chipmunks, turtles, birds, and amphibians that rely on these insects for food.
It’s easy to see how important leaves really are to sustaining the natural web of life.
Leaves and Lawn
At the time of a 2005 NASA estimate, there were around 40 million acres of lawn in the continental United States—making turf grass the fourth largest “crop” we grow. This disproportionate ratio of lawn to garden is the main reason we rake, mow, and blow. To mimic the natural ecosystem an animal needs, a layer of leaves needs to be at least a couple of inches thick. While this would be too much of a good thing for turf grass to handle—research has shown that lawns actually benefit from a thin layer of leaves, and the rest can be piled up around ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials to no ill effect.
If you must keep your lawn clear of leaves—try opting for raking or using a leaf vacuum to capture whole leaves, rather than shredding them with a mower and make a leaf pile in a corner of your yard. More on that below.
Better still would be to reduce your overall lawn footprint, replacing it instead with wildlife supporting plantings that can be future repositories for fall leaves.
To Shred or not to Shred?
Many organic gardeners opt for shredding their fall leaves for use in compost piles. While this is certainly a more environmentally friendly practice than bagging leaves and sending them to the landfill – shredded leaves will not provide the same cover as leaving them whole, and you may be destroying eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis along with the leaves. We suggest that leaves in garden beds and lawn edges be left whole. Where space allows, consider creating a leaf pile and allowing it to break down naturally, or add the leaves gradually to your compost pile over time. Such efforts will keep critters safe and allow you to benefit from the rich garden gift that falls from the trees above.
Another reason to leave the leaves is for the many benefits they provide to your landscape. Leaves provide valuable organic matter and build up healthy soil. Fallen leaves have the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties of shredded wood mulch—and they’re free! Where mulch is desired as a decorative element, what could be more seasonally appropriate than a pile of brightly colored fall leaves?
In the past gardeners may have worried that fall leaves, matted down by snow or rain, would have a negative impact on their perennials. In reality, a thick layer of leaves provides additional insulation against bitter cold weather, and can protect newly planted perennials when frost-heave may expose tender roots. Anyone who has spotted fragile spring ephemerals popping up in the woods knows that all but the frailest of plants will burst through the leaf litter in spring without trouble.
The Bottom Line
You gave them flowers and a place to nest. You tended your garden and avoided pesticides. Don’t carry all of that hard work out to the curb. Simply put, when we treat leaves like trash—we’re tossing out the beautiful moths and butterflies that we’ll surely miss and work so very hard to attract.
While the idea is to “leave the leaves” permanently—for all of the benefits mentioned above—if you do decide you need to clean up the garden and remove the leaves in spring, make sure you wait until late in the season so as not to destroy all the life you’ve worked to protect.
Reposted with permission from the Xerces Society’s blog: https://xerces.org/2017/10/06/leave-the-leaves/
Hunter Welcome Center goes native to welcome butterflies and bees! Photos: Gayenell Rainwater
Many college landscape directors belong to the Professional Grounds Management Society. The Society's September/October newsletter, Grounds Management Forum, featured the article below. We hope the first few paragraphs will entice you to read this beautifully written story of one ground manager's and one campus' awakening to landscaping for pollinators.
WHAT BECOMING A BEE CAMPUS MEANS
by Gayenell Rainwater, Abilene Christian University
How many of you have ever heard of a Bee Campus? If you listen to the news at all, in the last few years you have no doubt heard about the decline in the monarch migration. You may have heard of Colony Collapse in honeybees? You may have heard about the fact that many species of bees are becoming extinct? All pollinators are facing global decline due to habitat loss, chemical exposure, or poor nutrition. We, as human beings, are causing this decline. You have the power to reverse this decline. Simple changes, in the way you landscape and what plants you choose can have a profound effect on not only pollinators, but on people.
How many of you have a pollinator garden on campus or choose native species for your landscaping? Then you too, can become an accredited Bee Campus. If I may, I would like to share our story…. While I would like to say that becoming a Bee Campus was intentional, and I would love to take the credit, saying it was my diligence and forward thinking, seeking to forge a name in sustainable environmental practices, I have to admit it was almost an accident. The opportunity came about due to other circumstances. First, I would like to talk about the monarch butterfly a little bit because this is what actually led to us becoming a Bee Campus. About 3 years ago, I heard a speaker at ULMA (the University Landscape Manager Association) meeting. Thea Junt, from University of Texas at Dallas, gave a talk on monarch way stations. She is a very motivating speaker, had great slides, and best of all showed a project that students would be interested in. I came back, very determined for Abilene Christian to have a monarch way station. It started out very simply. We chose Hunter Welcome Center because of its sprawling porch and the fact that we have many visitors here every year, we wanted it to be visible. We had a couple of small beds that had needed a makeover, due to the fact, that many of the plants chosen for that area were not suitable for our soils, climate, or effluent water.
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The Professional Grounds Management Society will hold its annual conference October 16-19, 2018, and Mike Oxendine, former Landscape Supervisor for Southern Oregon University, will be there making a presentation about how SOU instigated the Bee Campus USA program in 2015.
Remember when seven of the 60+ known yellow-faced bee species in Hawaii were added to the Endangered Species list in 2016, and the once common rusty-patched bumblebee was listed in 2017?
Yellow-faced bees are Hawaii's only native bee species. As the primary pollinator of the naupaka, a beach shrub native to the islands, as they go, so goes the naupaka.
In both cases, arrows point to climate change, invasive plant species, habitat loss, diseases, parasites and pesticides as synergistic contributors to their demise. Nevertheless, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation biologists are hopeful that endangered status will strengthen plans to help the insects.
Recently we received promising news that rusty-patched bumblebees still inhabit the Eastern United States, at least in Virginia; and consequently, they could receive more protections in an effort to help the species rebound--IF the federal government continues to administer the Endangered Species Act.
According to Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist with the Xerces Society, "Since 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been at the forefront of species protection, placing the United States as a world leader in science-based conservation. The ESA is our nation’s most effective law for protecting animals and plants in danger of extinction, and has prevented 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. Despite how effective this law has been at its intended purpose, the current administration has its sights on weakening the ESA to the detriment of the species it was designed to protect."
John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Which species is expendable? While no one has the knowledge to answer that question, scientists consider biological diversity our best weapon again the impacts of climate change. Greater species numbers and larger population sizes give organisms more adaptability to survive.
The comment period for the proposed changes to the ESA ends on September 24, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. You can let your federal legislators know that you support the Endangered Species Act. Read Xerces blog on how here.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA director and board.