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Did you hear the buzz? Cities are excellent pollinator preserves

Your home garden is the perfect candidate for saving bees, butterflies, and moths.

To bolster pollinator conservation, new research reveals it’s important to focus on home gardens, an overlooked urban nature preserve.

A recent groundbreaking study compared nectar production in urban areas, farms, and nature preserves across the UK. The researchers found that home gardens produced as much nectar as natural habitats. In some cases, urban areas host a higher diversity of flowering plants that make them better for pollinators. These findings, published in the Journal of Ecology, align with existing research showing a surprising diversity of pollinators in cities and towns.

The investigation, led by Nicholas Tew, an ecologist at the University of Bristol, found that home gardens were one of the largest land uses in UK cities and towns and supplied 85% of urban nectar. Gardens made up about one-third of urban landmass, a massive area compared to parks (5% of urban land use) and community garden allotments (1% of land). These results show home gardens are a crucial network of pollinator habitats within transformed urban landscapes.

“We expected private gardens in towns and cities to be a plentiful source of nectar, but didn’t anticipate the scale of production would be to such an overwhelming extent,” Tew explained in a University of Bristol press release. The research illustrates the huge role gardeners play in pollinator conservation, as without gardens there would be far less food for pollinators, which include bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles… It is vital…for gardeners to try to make sure their gardens are as good as possible for pollinators.”

Tew’s research complements existing pollinator habitat guidelines for gardeners and homeowners. The Xerces Society, an international nonprofit dedicated to invertebrate conservation, recommends planting various native flowers, reducing pesticide usage, and providing undisturbed nesting areas.

Gardeners should select native flowers, when possible, as they are better food sources than ornamental plants. Select species that bloom at overlapping times from spring to fall to provide a continuous food supply.

Next, reduce or stop pesticide use. While they help manage pests, pesticides kill or harm pollinators too. Thriving home gardens are possible even without pesticides. If pesticides are necessary, use the most selective formulas and only spray when and where pollinators are not active.

For shelter and nest sites, wild bees need standing stems and sunny, bare ground. Pollinators like bumblebees, butterflies, and moths need fallen branches and leaves to hibernate. While garden mulch controls weeds and retains moisture, colored and treated mulches are toxic and block ground access. Instead, try using downed leaves as your mulch — it’s an easy and cost-effective solution that provides pollinator habitat, too.

Finally, allowing flowers like dandelions, clover, and violets to grow in your lawn will make your property more welcoming to pollinators. If you prefer a more manicured aesthetic, manage the weeds in heavily trafficked areas like front walks and patios while setting aside less-used areas for conservation.

“The global pollinator crisis is one environmental problem that an individual urban resident can do something about,” a team of international pollination scientists said in a Plymouth University press release. “Simply plant more diverse flowers of different sizes, let valuable ‘weeds’ grow an extra week or two before mowing them from your lawn, leave some bare unmulched ground for solitary ground nesters, learn to appreciate the aesthetic of yards of others who plant for bees, and then watch the urban pollinators flourish.”