Bring on the bees and flowers, food will blossom

Maryland soon to be a safe haven for bees

Beginning in 2018, bees and beneficial insects will be a little safer in the state of Maryland, thanks to the recently passed Pollinator Protection Act. The new law (Senate Bill 198) will restrict the sale and use of a large class of insecticides linked to the collapse of honey bee colonies and population declines among native bees like bumblebees.

Neonicotinoids (commonly referred to as ‘neo-nics’), include the widely-used chemicals imidcloprid and dinoefurant, and are found in products like Ortho’s Bug B Gon. The chemicals mimic the effects of nicotine, and essentially excite insects to death. Honeybees and bumblebees seem to be especially vulnerable to its effects.

Homeowners will no longer have access to these insecticides beginning in 2018, but you’ll save man flower- and food-producing bees if you choose to avoid such chemicals now.

Remember: No bees, no food!

Native plants? How about our native bees?!

And we’re not just talking about the nonnative honey bee, whose hives have suffered devastating losses both locally and nationally over the past decade. Maryland is home to more than 400 species of native bees — from those impossibly big buzzing bumblebees to the squash bees that pollinate our pumpkins and zucchini flowers more reliably than honey bees.

And native bees are not aggressive! The males don’t even have stingers; and the females — being sensible females — don’t use their stingers unless you do something like step on them. And even then, the sting is mild compared to that of a honey bee, wasp or yellowjacket.

So put away that sprayer well in advance of the law’s deadline, and instead welcome this great diversity of hardworking insects into your landscape. They’ll reward you with an abundance of food, flowers and fun!

Bring on the bees

You can also help protect our priceless pollinators by planting some of their favorite flowering plants — redbuds, asters, coneflowers (like Echinacea) and sunflowers of all shapes and sizes.

Big patches of the same plant are better than scattered specimens. And the best colors are blues and violets, followed by white and yellow.

Place small dishes filled with pebbles and water around the garden so they’ll have a safe place to perch when they need a drink.

And above all, don’t wait for the new law to come into effect to stop spraying chemical pesticides. They harm many more good bugs than bad.

BTI is hard on mosquitoes, but safe for other pollinators

Camilla in D.C. writes: “I’ve heard you mention BTI a few times as mosquito control. I work at a native plant nursery in Alexandria. My research suggests that BTI targets the entire diptera order, which also includes some pollinators. My co-workers believe this disqualifies it for mosquito control. Do you still believe BTI is appropriate for people for whom local ecology is very important?”

Yes, I do because local people are also important, and BTI is a great common-sense way to protect those people from the nasty diseases spread by mosquitoes.

And it has very little impact on pollinators. In fact, BTI — a naturally-occurring soil organism used for nontoxic mosquito control — actually affects very few members of the diptera genus, which includes all of the true flies. (Yes, mosquitoes are actually flies.)

Added to water, BTI has been shown to affect only mosquitoes, blackflies and those annoying fungus gnats that people breed when they overwater their houseplants. It has no effect on important pollinators in the fly family like hoverflies and bee flies. (And those pollinators don’t breed in the standing water that we’d be treating with BTI — so they won’t even be exposed.)

Let’s be real here. We are under ever-increasing danger from mosquitoes carrying really nasty diseases (zika, West Nile to name a few). Adding BTI in the form of granules or doughnut-shaped dunks to standing water is an excellent way to reduce their numbers while affecting only one important pollinator — the mosquitoes themselves.

Yes, mosquitoes are pollinators.

Male mosquitoes live on pollen alone, and female mosquitoes also consume a lot of pollen to keep their energy up in between blood meals. So, yes, using BTI effectively will limit that one source of pollination. But anything that would be used instead of BTI to control mosquitoes would carry a huge risk of wiping out large numbers of pollinators, including honeybees and hundreds of different species of native bees.

Honey dos (and don’ts) this week
  • Finish pruning azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs and other spring bloomers. They’ll soon begin setting next year’s flowers.
  • Be patient with hydrangeas. Many of them were damaged by a late frost this year. Wait to prune them until all of the flowers are obvious and open. Then you can remove dead wood and nonflowering branches.
  • Prune off the hips that form after the each flush of roses has faded to encourage re-bloom. Mulch with compost (not composted manure) if you think they could use a little food. Stay away from chemical plant food and especially wood mulches.
  • Gently remove browned out spring bulb leaves. The underground bulbs should be fully recharged with their flowers for next year.
  • If you want to give your lawn a spring feeding and haven’t yet, do it soon — before the heat stress of summer hits hard.
  • Cut flowers for indoor display and salad greens for good eating in the cool of the morning, never in the heat of the day.
  • Don’t cut your lawn when it’s wet. And don’t handle the leaves of disease-prone plants like roses and tomatoes when they’re wet.

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