Pollinator Project

Honey bees across the country are dying by the millions due to Colony Collapse Disorder and other environmental factors. But homeowners and gardeners can chip in to promote healthy honey-bee populations, thanks in part to the educational efforts of Penn State Master Gardeners.

With funding support from ice cream manufacturer Haagen Dazs, the Master Gardener program has launched a statewide campaign to establish pollinator-friendly community demonstration gardens and to educate home gardeners about how they can provide safe havens for honey bees and other struggling pollinators.

The program focuses on creating landscapes that can strengthen and increase native pollinator populations, explains Ginger Pryor, extension associate in horticulture and state Master Gardener coordinator. "Because landscapes have been extremely fragmented due to urbanization, suburbanization and development, we would like to have homeowners and gardeners rethinking their space," she says.

When land is developed and altered from its natural state, the new landscapes usually consist mostly of turf and a few shrubs and trees, which typically are not pollinator friendly, she notes. "Without blooming plants to serve as food sources, bees have to fly miles for food and pollen," she says. "Hives under that strain probably won't survive through the year."

She suggests that homeowners consider pollinators when selecting plants for a landscape. "Start thinking about blooming," Pryor urges. "Instead of going out and picking an evergreen shrub, pick one that blooms."

She also encourages people to choose native trees and shrubs. "Our insects evolved with our native plants, and they rely on each other to survive," she explains. "These principles are not just for flowerbeds. Maple and oak trees are some of our region's first bloomers, and many of our native shrubs are great nectar feeders."

The three-phrase pollinator-friendly gardening program began last year with the development of 40 demonstration gardens across the state. Maintained by local Master Gardeners, each garden is required to establish eight specific pollinator-friendly plants and must pursue practices such as being pesticide-free, preserving potential pollinator nesting sites and providing an available water source.

"Our concern is making sure we have safe environments for our pollinators where they can gather pollen to make honey and enable plants to reproduce," Pryor says.

At each of the 40 demonstration gardens, Master Gardeners will present educational programming about pollinators for the surrounding community, offering workshops on topics such as how to create habitats, planting flowering herbs, backyard composting and using pollinator plants in cooking, crafts and gifts.

The second phase is a pollinator-friendly certification program that will take effect this year. "Homeowners who are implementing pollinator-friendly practices will have the option to have their property certified as pollinator friendly," Pryor explains. "This is similar to the wildlife-habitat certification program available through the National Wildlife Federation."

The program's final goal is to work with garden centers and retailers to place informational material in stores to help shoppers easily identify pollinator-friendly plants. Involving the commercial sector can help to engage the community and make it easier for homeowners to implement simple pollinator-friendly practices, according to Pryor.

"There are a lot of small things that homeowners can do to help provide for native pollinators that won't change their landscape dramatically," Pryor says. "The pollinator-friendly gardening program is designed to help communities do their part to help save our bees."

For more information about the pollinator-friendly gardening program, contact your county Penn State  Extension office. Also visit Haagen Dazs' interactive Web site, The Honey Bees, to learn more about the honey bee and its plight.

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