Guest Blog from our friends at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation
Next time you open your Produce Box, take a moment to appreciate the many pollinators who sponsored that bounty. Those pollinators need our help and that’s why we’d love to tell you about the Butterfly Highway. Insects like native bees, butterflies, beetles and moths are bedrock to North Carolina’s $84 billion agricultural economy, including that local produce in your Box. Fortunately, we can return the favor by creating simple, attractive “pollinator pit stops” at our homes and businesses using the guidelines below. There is no minimum size, as long as the appropriate plants and resources are provided. Even an apartment balcony can be a habitat! Even though they often work out of sight and mind, insects are essential components of the wildlife food chain. Plants of forest and field, like apple trees and blackberry bushes, need the help of pollinators to provide food for a broad range of wildlife (and hungry humans!)
The North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Butterfly Highway program allows NCWF to partner with citizens, businesses, places of faith and others like those shown here to create, enhance and restore wildlife habitat across the state. “The Butterfly Highway: A Roadmap for Pollinator and Wildlife Conservation” helps NCWF track pollinator habitats and efforts in North Carolina, while bringing attention to the plight of our valued pollinators and their critical role in the web of life.
Use the guide below to create a habitat that meets all the basic requirements for wildlife. Once you check everything off the list you can Register Your Site as a Pollinator Pitstop on the Butterfly Highway! Kids love seeing their “dot on the map,” and experiencing wildlife and stewardship first-hand.
Pollinators face increasing pressure from habitat loss, pesticide use, and conventional farming practices. Ensuring that pollinators can navigate a modern landscape of man-made barriers and challenges requires all hands on deck.
In addition to pollinating plants, insects provide food for many animals, for example, birds feed their young soft caterpillars and other fleshy insects as critical protein. If pollinators continue declining in our state, wildlife will be challenged to find enough food to survive and farmers’ yields will continue to suffer.
GUIDELINES FOR CREATING A POLLINATOR HABITAT:
Location: Pollinators, and the plants that support them, need lots of sun. The site should include an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun daily.
Water: Most pollinators get water from nectar, but butterflies love puddling in a butterfly spa!
Shelter: Plants should be close together, but not crowded, to provide protection from pests and predators.
Place to raise young: Native bees often nest underground and require open patches of soil. Leave some space in your site free of mulch and debris to provide essential bee nesting habitat. Butterflies lay their eggs on trees and herbaceous plants. Certain species have very specific requirements for plants, such as the Monarch, which relies on milkweed plants (pictured) to support all of its life stages.
Food source: Nectar plants are an essential food source for butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators. It is important to provide plants that bloom from early spring to late fall to provide adequate food for breeding and migration. Choosing a wide variety of plants in different colors, shapes and heights that may be attractive to a diversity of pollinators is best. Your garden should include at least 3 nectar plants native to your region.
Sustainable gardening practices: Many pollinators are insects and are vulnerable to the effects of insecticides. Organic gardening practices are recommended to reduce these effects. Consider eliminating chemical pesticides, avoiding chemical mosquito barriers for your yard, planting natives, and asking your local provider for plants or seeds that have not been treated with neonicotinoids.
Blog by Sarah Hollis, Membership & Outreach Coordinator of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. Additional material provided by Dr. Angel Hjarding, Director of Pollinator & Wildlife Habitat Programs for NCWF
. Image credit: Angel Hjarding/NCWF.