May 6, 2013

Be good to the pollinators

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — Just about the time we see the grass greening and the trees leafing out, we start noticing that the bugs are back. 

At the Cornell Cooperative Extension office we are beginning to get requests for information about insects so it seemed timely to write about them today. Some insects can be annoying or bothersome, but most are so beneficial to us that we could not do without them. 

If you come across an insect that you do not recognize, please determine what it is before you decide that it will harm your garden. We are happy to identify insects at no cost to you, let you know whether it is one of the “good guys” or “bad guys” and give you options for dealing with it. 

Any time you use an insecticide, you could be endangering beneficial insects. As you are planting your vegetable garden or putting in flowers, keep in mind that the insects that pollinate our vegetable and flower beds are the gardener’s best friends. 

When we think of pollinators, most of us think of bees. Did you know that wasps, beetles, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats are also great pollinators? Attracting pollinators to your yard and protecting them once they are there is a win-win situation. Providing the appropriate habitat for pollinators — the places they rest, feed and reproduce — not only attracts them, but can help to ensure their survival in the future. 

Habitats are altered by development, pesticides and herbicides. Gardeners can create pollinator-friendly habitats by planting flowers that bloom at different times of the year, providing pollen and nectar throughout the growing season. Planting flowers in clumps rather than rows creates an attractive bed that you and the pollinators will enjoy. Native plants are always a good choice. A variety of shapes and colors is also a draw for pollinators. 

Bees prefer sunny areas and sweet scents. Snapdragons and sweet peas are easy to grow and would make good choices. Beetles like fruity- and spicy-scented plants such as magnolias. Since moths are nocturnal, flowers that are more fragrant at night and have a strong, sweet perfume such as jasmine are a big draw after the porch light goes out. 

Most of us have a preference for either vegetable gardening or flower gardening. Many of us do some of each. Putting a container of scented flowers near your vegetable garden or planting some flowers between your rows can make a difference in the number of pollinators that frequent your garden. At the same time, they make working in the garden more pleasurable for you. 

At 6 p.m. Thursday, May 16, Master Gardener volunteers will be on hand to discuss the best practices for planting a successful vegetable garden at “Planting Time” at the Peru Free Library. The program is free and open to everyone. Register by calling 561-7450 or emailing

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or