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Pollinators help produce nearly 80% of the crops grown throughout the world, including almost all of the fruit and grain crops in the United States. They also contribute to cleaner air, water, and soil. Unfortunately, with pollinators facing threats including habitat loss and pesticides, their important work is at risk. However, a new study finds that your small garden may be of some help.Researchers at the University of Bristol investigated the nectar content in more than 50 urban gardens to better understand how they serve as a food source for pollinators. They found that though there was a wide range of nectar production within each garden, bees could manage to find food from March through October by hopping from one to the other. The results were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Nicholas Tew, first author and PhD student at the University of Bristol, says, “We found that individual gardens vary in both how much food they provide and when they provide it during the year. However, because flying pollinators like bees can visit many different gardens, they are likely to be able to find food in residential neighborhoods whenever they need it.”
To better understand the role of these neighborhood gardens, the team looked at flower nectar production in 59 residential gardens throughout Bristol. The production ranged from as low as 2g to as high as 1.7kg throughout the year. This wasn’t based on size, though. The difference was based on which plants were there.
Tew says, “This means that everyone has the potential to help pollinators in a meaningful way, even with a small garden, and there is a lot of room for improvement, with some gardens providing hundreds of times less food than others, depending on what people choose to plant, weed, prune or mow.”
To provide the most nectar, the researchers recommend shrubs, trees, and relatively open flowers in the late summer and early fall so the food is more accessible. Gardens with ornamental flower borders tended to offer the highest nectar yield, as well.
There was another way residential gardens shone. Due to the large amount of gardens available within an urban setting, the team also found that pollinators have a much more stable food source in this environment than in rural farmland, where there are seasonal gaps in food availability.
If you’d like to ensure these pollinators have the food they need, consider signing the honey bee pledge.