Pollination critical for fall gardens

The September Gardener

Suzanna MacIntosh, a Master Gardener Extension volunteer and member of the Southwest Georgia Master Gardeners, stands in the butterfly pollinator garden at Radium Springs Gardens with Thomas Bruce, park manager for Dougherty County. MacIntosh was the co-chair of the butterfly garden project. (Jennifer Parks)

Suzanna MacIntosh, a Master Gardener Extension volunteer and member of the Southwest Georgia Master Gardeners, stands in the butterfly pollinator garden at Radium Springs Gardens with Thomas Bruce, park manager for Dougherty County. MacIntosh was the co-chair of the butterfly garden project. (Jennifer Parks)

September is a great time to plant a fall vegetable garden. As you do, remember the importance of pollination to many vegetables and include some plants for pollinators too. Without our bees, butterflies and other pollinators we would not have many of the vegetables and fruits that we commonly enjoy. Attracting pollinators to your vegetable garden helps with crop yield and adds beauty to your garden. It also helps you have a healthier garden.

Blueberries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, squash, watermelon, okra, peaches, pears and honey are just a few of the crops that depend on pollinators. The presence of bees and butterflies is also a barometer of the health of your garden; if you see that your garden lacks these, you can be assured that something is out of balance.

Bees are one of our most important pollinators. In Southwest Georgia we are fortunate to have an outstanding beekeepers group, the SOWEGA Beekeepers. The Beekeepers meet every second Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Chehaw’s Creekside Educational Center. They welcome guests and have members from many of our surrounding counties. Kent Simmons, M.D., is this year’s president and Dawson resident Gail Rakel is vice president. Here’s a link: www.sowegabeekeepers.org.

In addition to honeybees, there are more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America. To strengthen bee populations, they need flowers that supply pollen and nectar all summer. Some of the plants to consider are asters, sunflowers, purple coneflowers, milkweeds, salvia, lantana, zinnias, pentas, goldenrod, butterfly bush and chaste trees.

To attract butterflies, it’s important to understand that a butterfly goes through a complete metamorphosis, with a caterpillar stage coming before the adult butterfly, each with different needs. The caterpillar only wants to eat to develop, but caterpillars are picky and will only eat a specific plant or two, the “host plant”, which varies by butterfly species.

For instance, the Monarch butterfly will only lay eggs on milkweed, its host plant, because its young can only digest the leaves of this one plant. Most host plants are native plants and that is one of the many important reasons you often hear about native plants.

We have lost many native plants that once were common in our landscapes. With this loss of habitat, we have experienced a decline in our native bee, butterfly and bird populations; growth and development, non-native plants (which can be invasive and choke out native plants), large lawns (with little shelter or sustenance for insects and birds) are just a few of the reasons.

To see a reversal, we must re-establish some native habitat in our gardens and landscapes. In urban settings we can landscape with ‘hedge rows’ around the perimeter of our yards. Birds and butterflies depend on the shelter and food sources these provide. By restoring lost habitat we help migratory wildlife that depends upon this too.

Adult butterflies need nectar plants which can be non-natives. Be aware that sometimes plants which have been hybridized for color and bloom and to be hardy and pest-free, have lost scent and nectar and offer little to attract or sustain pollinators. To complete your garden you’ll need a shallow water source, a puddling area, basking area and shelter. You’ll need to avoid pesticide and herbicide use, whenever possible. Don’t be too tidy; leaving some leaf litter for overwintering butterflies enriches your soil and provides plants protection from extreme weather. UGA publication, “Beyond Butterflies: Gardening for Native Pollinators”, http://www.caes.uga.edu/publications/pubDetail.cfm?pk_id=7781#Introduction and NRCS publication, http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Native_Pollinators.pdf, provide excellent information.

For your enjoyment there is a beautiful butterfly garden at Radium Springs which was recognized by Monarchs Across Georgia as 2012’s “Outstanding Pollinator Habitat”. The garden is a collaborative effort between Dougherty County and the Southwest Georgia Master Gardener Extension volunteers. Much credit for its beauty goes to Dougherty County and to Parks & Gardens Coordinator Thomas Bruce and his fine team.

The Albany Arts Council has a beautiful new butterfly garden at the Carnegie Library, a project of Kiwanis of Dougherty County and the Southwest Georgia Homeschool Association Key Club. The Arts Council is providing long-term maintenance. The Master Gardeners Native Plant Garden at Chehaw’s Education Center will soon include a butterfly garden and the Camilla Garden Club is planting two butterfly gardens this fall in Camilla, at the DeSoto Trail Regional Library and at Louise Watts Park.

In an exciting new initiative school vegetable gardens are cropping up across Albany. The American Heart Association, PPMH Community Visions and the Dougherty County School System are partnering to promote healthy living and outdoor classroom hands-on learning.

DOCO Health Department, Georgia Organics and the Southwest Georgia Project Farm to School Initiative are some of the wonderful partners. First United Methodist Church with many great partners is working on several great community vegetable garden projects too. Master Gardeners and a terrific team from Albany’s Parks & Recreation Department are helping with these initiatives and Dougherty County Cooperative Extension is an important resource to everyone.

Certifying the pollinator sites at each vegetable garden with Monarchs Across Georgia adds invaluable resources and another great partner: http://www.eealliance.org/pollinator-habitat. By attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your vegetable garden you can insure a bountiful and healthful harvest.

Suzanna MacIntosh is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer and member of the Southwest Georgia Master Gardeners. For more information, contact Dougherty CEC James Morgan at (229) 436-7216 or morganjl@uga.edu