Written by Lekhya Kollu
Pollinators are vital to sustaining our ecosystems and helping humans produce products like fruits, vegetables, fibers, nuts, and oils. One out of every three bites of food we take is thanks to the efforts of pollinators! Unfortunately, due to things like chemical misuse, disease and climate change, many pollinator populations have been on the decline.
As public interest in saving pollinator populations grows, many people have begun planning “pollinator gardens”. Replacing the single species grass lawns common in American suburbia, people have been planting patches of wildflowers to provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for local pollinators. As well intentioned as these pollinator gardens may be, they have the potential to have several negative consequences to the local environment.
For one, the “wildflower mixes” many people plant for their pollinator gardens are usually mixes of flowers from various regions, which may not always be helpful to native plant and pollinator species populations. For example, the plants that generally are included in wildflower mixes grow and reproduce extremely fast. If they spread outside of their planted area, they can push out native species that have not adapted to compete with these invasive non-native species.
Additionally, pollinator gardens are usually made up of small densely packed populations of wildflowers. However, especially in urban areas, native plants are usually more widely dispersed. This may result in pollinator gardeners outcompeting native plants in attracting pollinators, thereby indirectly harming native plant populations.
Pollinator gardens may also be detrimental to the environment by attracting the wrong kind of pollinator. In certain urban areas, pollinator gardens have been seen to attract an invasive species known as Paper Wasps. These wasps are particularly attracted to milkweed gardens, which are meant to serve monarchs. They lay traps in these gardens to capture monarch larvae, thus further reducing already vulnerable monarch populations.
While the possible consequences of pollinator gardens may be intimidating, with proper research and planning, it is possible to plant a pollinator garden geared towards helping native species thrive. To begin with, it is important to be aware of which pollinator-friendly plants are native to the region your garden is in, and selectively choose these species to be planted in your garden. There should be a diverse array of plants in your garden to make sure a variety of pollinators are drawn to and benefit from the space. So, while poorly planned pollinator gardens can be detrimental to overall ecosystem health, with a little research, it’s completely possible to plant a garden that actually provides the benefits it promises.