Fresh fruits and vegetables are the mainstay of a healthy diet. Yet without pollinators, the diversity and availability of our fresh produce would be in considerable decline. Humans and animals would suffer for it, so we owe a lot of gratitude to those creatures whose work goes mainly unnoticed.
Pollinator populations are in decline around the globe, primarily because of habitat loss and pesticide use. Like all living creatures, they need food, water, and shelter to survive.
You may think that what little we can do in our own backyards may be inconsequential. But even small gestures such as creating a pollinator hotel where these creatures can overwinter will help these creatures survive to pollinate our own gardens and multiply so we can ensure a brighter future for all who benefit from their hard work.
Who Are Our Pollinators?
Bees are the most well-known pollinators. There are over 4,000 species of bees native to the United States. From fuzzy bumble bees and metallic green sweat bees to honey bees, they pollinate millions of plants when collecting pollen and nectar as food for themselves and their young. Many live solitary lives, while some are social and live in colonies.
Bees are attracted to flowers with low ultraviolet reflectance near the center of each petal, which is invisible to humans. This ultraviolet light works as a guide to help bees locate a flower’s center quickly. The bee follows the ultraviolet light to more quickly collect its nectar, and the flower becomes more effectively pollinated.
Most don’t think of beetles as pollinators, yet they are the largest and most diverse group of pollinating animals in the U.S., with more than 77,000 species that visit flowers. Beetles are believed to be responsible for visiting nearly 90 percent of the world’s nearly 350,000 flowering plant species.
Because they are clumsier fliers than bees, beetles mainly visit flowers that are bowl-shaped and singular, such as magnolias and water lilies. These flowers have centers that are more easily accessible to them.
Butterflies do not have specialized body parts for collecting and distributing pollen that bees and some beetles have, so they pick up limited amounts of pollen on their bodies. While less efficient pollinators than bees or beetles, butterflies make up for their deficiency with their ability to visit many flowers and a wide variety of flowers in a single day. They prefer flat, clustered flowers that offer them an easier landing place. And, because butterflies can see red, that is their favorite color.
Building a DIY Pollinator Hotel
Building a DIY pollinator hotel is something you can do right in your own backyard with everyday tools. It can even be a fun family activity. And it’s a wonderful early fall activity that will help not only the environment but your next year’s garden as well.
- Your hotel must have a sloped roof to deflect the rain.
- You cannot use treated wood.
- The hotel should be placed in full sun with the open side facing south to get the most warmth from the sun. It must be firmly placed so it does not sway with the wind.
- Fill your hotel completely. If you leave empty areas, paper wasps will move in and build their own home.
- Build or recycle an open-faced box.
- Add a sloped roof using additional wood. Add a few roofing shingles for extra protection from the elements.
- Use wood to break up the singular space of the box into a few fillable sections. Collect logs or blocks of wood at least 7 inches long. Drill holes that are 1/2 inch in diameter and 6 inches deep. Make sure the circular openings are smooth and free of splinters, or the insects can get injured when entering.
- Place your drilled logs or blocks into the box.
- To fill the areas between your blocks or logs, buy tubes at your local garden center or roll cardboard into tubes. You can even use stalks from daylilies, which are hollow. Place the tubes into the open spaces.
- Save some room for beetles and butterflies. Beetles love pine cones and straw. If you save a section that you can fill with pine cones or straw, you’ll be attracting beetles as well as the occasional butterfly to your hotel. You might even find ladybugs taking advantage of that area.
Pollinator Hotel Maintenance
Pollinator hotels need little maintenance. Every few seasons, clean it with a pipe cleaner or brush to rid it of debris so fungi and parasites don’t take it over. If you need to replace tubes or logs, place the old ones with the holes facing up on the ground first so any remaining bees can get out.