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Though the big buzz in the garden a couple of years ago was butterfly gardening, it has now expanded to pollinators big and small. Birds, bees and other critters of nature, including frogs and toads, have all been added to the list. So, I’m spending the next month researching improvements in plant choices in the OPC garden in Rochester

Bees, considered by most scientists to be the most important pollinators on a global scale, are suffering and the honeybees and North American natives, such as bumblebees, have been reported on the decline for more than a decade. But bees are not the only pollinators in trouble; birds, butterflies and beneficial insects are among the other surface and soil-dwelling critters that are also in decline. 

The three simple guidelines  to support the pollinators are gardens that provide food in the form of leaves and flowers throughout the growing season;  create nesting and overwintering sites ; and avoid use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. I’d also add soil improvement. 

On the Fine Gardening website (finegardening.com) article "Creating Homes for Pollinators," I found a photo of a “Pollinator Palace,” – a charming structure made of recycled wood pallets, chunks of wood, bricks with holes and various sized pipe shaped structures. Located at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in Williamsburg, Virginia, it was designed to provide homes for a variety of mud wasps and native bees. I’d like to tuck one behind our little stone house. 

The good news is, we needn’t rip out our landscape or turn it into what some would call a hot mess to grow a pollinator friendly garden. 

While this may seem like a daunting task if you’re just starting, with a bit of internet research and reading you can easily take the mystery out of pollinator gardening.  I highly recommend  reading "Pollinator Friendly Gardening" by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyager Press ) to see what pollinators you can expect to visit your garden, their life cycles and an extensive list of plant that will support them. Fleming Hayes includes plant lists for annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs and vines. 

Interspersed throughout the book are “Ask the Expert” Q and As featuring a profes'sional that specializes in specific subjects. 

Of interest to me were the comments on the use of “Nativars” – cultivars that have been selected and propagated from native species to improve one or more desirable traits, such as growth habit, height, bloom color, etc. According to the ongoing research at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, so far, so good.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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