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BUMBLEBEES HAVE BEEN FLYING ON COOL MORNINGS

        I am sure you have recently been enjoying waking up to temperatures in the low 50s as much as I have.  On these special early fall mornings, I love stepping out on the deck and take in the sights and sounds that surround me.

       One thing that I have noticed is no butterflies are visiting the globe amaranth, zinnias, garden balsam, and scarlet sage growing in pots on the deck.  However, each day I have spotted small bumblebees visiting scarlet sage blossoms.

       Being able to begin feeding before butterflies and other pollinators arrive is a definite advantage to the hard-working bumblebees.

        Remarkably, bumblebees can fly when it dips down as low as 40º F. As such, since the temperatures in my neck of woods should not drop below 40º F for a few weeks, I will be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching bumblebees are hard at work for some time to come.

 

     

TAKE PART IN THE GREAT GEORGIA POLLINATOR CENSUS

       If you want to engage in an activity designed to help conserve our valuable pollinators, take part in The Great Georgia Pollinator census. This year the census takes place August 19-20, 2022.

       The University of Georgia, Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and a number of other conservation groups sponsor the count.

       You do not have to be an expert in the identification of the state’s pollinators to take part.  The reason for this is UGA provides participants with a color tally sheet.  The pollinators are divided into eight broad categories ranging from honeybees and butterflies to flies and spiders.  All you have to match the insects you spot with photos on sheet.

       Simply select an area you want to census.  Then count all of the pollinators you see in just 15 minutes.  Once the survey is complete, upload your data and your duties as a citizen scientist are completed.

      Now that is what I call simple.

       If you would like more information concerning all aspects of the count, visit the count’s official website The Great Georgia Pollinator Count – Citizen Science at Work (ggapc.org)

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE FOR BUMBLEBEES TO SPEND A COOL FALL NIGHT

       The Confederate rose brings spectacular beauty to yards across Georgia.  However, my wife, Donna, and I have found that its showy blossoms are also used as places for bumblebees to escape the cold on chilly autumn nights.

       This large multi-stemmed shrub or small tree was brought to North America in the 1600s.  Since then it has been widely planted throughout the Southeast.  It popularity stems from the fact that, from late summer until frost, it bears scores of white blossoms that measure up to six inches in diameter.  These flowers eventually turn light pink before finally becoming rose-colored.

       While my wife and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty the flowers bring to our yard, our discovery that these stunning blooms provide bumblebees with warm refuges on chilly fall nights has heightened our appreciation for the plant.

       For quite some time, I had not given any thought to this interesting behavior until late one afternoon this past week.  Late one afternoon I noticed that my wife, was looking deep into the one of the blossoms adorning a Confederate rose growing alongside our driveway.  I walked up to find out what had caught her attention.  When she said she was looking at a bumblebee that had settled in for the night deep inside a Confederate rose bloom, I peered down into the throat of the flower and spotted the insect.  As we stood nearby discussing her find, a couple of other bumblebees flew into other blossoms.

       When I returned to the flowers well after dark, sure enough, the bumblebees were still there awaiting morning when temperatures warmed to the point where they could utilize the muscles that control their wings and fly away.

       A number of animals seek cover on chilly nights.  Many birds and mammals retreat to natural cavities, nesting boxes, thick vegetation, and other places.  However, I doubt that many spend cold nights nestled in cover as beautiful a Confederate rose blossom.

       If you have a Confederate rose growing in your yard, before the blossoms nipped by a frost, as the sun is setting check them out.  If bumblebees are still flying about in your neck of the woods, chances are one or more might be using some of gorgeous blooms for nighttime cover also.

GREAT GEORGIA POLLINATOR CENSUS TO BE HELD AUGUST 20-21, 2021

       If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.  This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.

       This will mark the third year the census has been conducted.  Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey.  Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.

       The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part.  There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time.  Most counts are held in yards.  However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds. 

       The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.  Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (beckgri@uga.edu).

       The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.

       For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org).  When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–NATIVE BEES ARE OFTEN MORE EFFICIENT POLLINATORS THAN HONEY BEES

       As odd as it may sound, many of our native bees are at least three times more efficient pollinators as the introduced honeybee.

       Take for example the bumblebee: many of us grow blueberries in our yards.  Many pollinators including honeybees and bumblebees visit the blueberry plant’s creamy white flowers.  Studies have demonstrated that a honeybee would have to visit a blueberry flower four times to deposit the same amount of pollen as a bumblebee can in only one visit. 

       In addition, native bees are more common than honeybees in many of our yards.  Unfortunately, few honey bees visit the flowers in my yard.  Luckily, tiny solitary, bumble, and carpenter bees are routinely seen visiting a wide range of flowers found there.

       This summer, as you walk around your flower and vegetable gardens take note of the bees you find pollinating your flowers.  If you do, don’t be surprised if you see very few honeybees and an abundance of native bees hard at work pollinating the plants that provide you with food and a cascade of beautiful flowers.

       I am convinced that we are guilty of underestimating the value of the 532 species of native bees that can be found flying throughout Georgia.

MOUNTAIN MINT IS A GREAT PLANT FOR POLLINATORS

       Over the years, my wife and I have been planting a diversity of nectar/pollen-producing plants in our gardens. This has been done in an effort to provide our backyard pollinators with sources of food throughout the year. This approach has offered us the opportunity to watch pollinators feed at a parade of plants from week to week as well as season to season. As the blossoms of one plant wither and die, pollinators redirect their attention to plants that are currently blooming. Right now, many of these pollinators are visiting mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.), one of the more recent additions to our landscape.

       Mountain mint is a native perennial herb that grows two to three feet tall. Eight species of this hardy plant are found in the Southeast. Plants grow two to three tall. They exist in a variety of soil conditions, including the dry clay soil found in our yard. While the plant does best in moist soil types, it is drought tolerant. Mountain mint will grow in partial shade as well as full sun.

    Mountain mint has a unique, eye-catching appearance. What makes this plant stand out is the fact that the leaves growing just below its flowers look like they have received a dusting of powdered sugar. In fact, to me, this foliage is far more attractive than the plant’s small white-purple blooms. In fact, these blossoms or so small you might overlook them if they were not arranged in clusters.

       However, though mountain mint plants won’t win any awards for beauty, the fact that it blooms from June into October makes it an important source of food for wild pollinators.

       Speaking of awards, in 2013 the Penn State Extension Service evaluated 88 pollinator-rewarding perennial plants for their importance to pollinators. At the end of the trial, mountain mint (P. muticum) received the highest rating for longevity of flowers, diversity of pollinators that use the plants, and the most insects attracted during the trials. In one trial, 76 insects visited the plants in just two minutes.

       I am not surprised at these findings. When my wife and daughter found our mountain mint blooming a few days ago, they saw a stand of mint being visited by three species of butterflies (juniper hairstreak, red-banded hairstreak, and pearl crescent). They competed with the likes of thread-waisted wasps, hornets, and bumblebees.

       One thing I like about mountain mint is that it is easy to grow. A friend gave us some mountain mint plants two summers ago. We set them out and kept them watered. The very next year the plants produced a crop of flowers.

       If you like to create dried arrangements, you will love mountain mint. Each fall after the flowers have disappeared, you are left with scores of unique prickly, round, brown seed heads displayed on long stems.

       Mountain mint is a plant that definitely deserves a place in your flower gardens.

QUESTIONS CONCERNING CREPE MYRTLE

       When I posted a blog concerning the value of crepe myrtle to wildlife, a blogger posed her concern that I had wrongfully maligned this popular ornamental, and wondered what the basis of my opinion was.

       It seems when crepe myrtle is blooming in her yard bees converge on the plant’s colorful flowers. She went on the say that when she deadheads the first crop of blooms to encourage a second blooming, when a new crop of blossoms bursts forth the bees return to once again feast.

       To say the least, I was surprised to learn that the bees in her backyard are drawn to crepe myrtle blossoms in large numbers. The crepe myrtles that grow in my neck of the woods are rarely visited by bees. This could be explained by the fact that she grows varieties such as Lipan, Tuscarora, and Dynamite. I am not familiar with them; they may produce an abundance of pollen and/or nectar. I do not know the name of the crepe myrtle rooted in my yard; however, I am sure it does not produce much of value to pollinators. I have seen wild pollinators feeding on the honeydew secreted by the aphids that live on the plants.

       I should also mention I have seen American goldfinches eat crepe myrtle seeds.

       In addition to producing little food, crepe myrtle is an exotic plant is invasive in many sections of Georgia. When it “walks away” from the place where it is planted, it can usurp habitat originally occupied by native plants. Typically, the native plants it supplants are of more value to wildlife than exotics.

       I am not the only wildlife biologist that does not consider crepe myrtle to be a great wildlife plant. Here is what Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, has to say about crepe myrtle, “Crepe myrtle is an enormously popular landscape plant because it has a nice habit, beautiful flowers, and lovely bark. But it contribute almost nothing to the food webs in your garden. If every plant is your yard were a crepe myrtle, you would have no food webs, and, thus, no birds, butterflies or other beneficial wildlife”

       If you enjoy the beauty offered by crepe myrtles in your yard, and the varieties you plant provide bees and other wildlife with food, continue to cultivate them. Meanwhile, plant some native plants that evolved alongside the native pollinators and other wildlife in your area. If you do, I think you will find they will be of great value to your backyard wildlife neighbors. In addition, you will be contributing to restoring the natural ecology of your yard.

BACKYARD SECRET: Coneflowers Are Great For Wildlife And People Too

        The coneflower’s value to wildlife is widely recognized.  It is a source of food for native pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  In addition, long after its blooms fade, American goldfinches and other birds feed on the plant’s prickly seeds.

       Those of us that plant this plant in our gardens enjoy the beauty of it uniquely shaped, colorful flowers.  However, according to many herbalists, the value of this plant to humans may go far beyond its pleasing appearance.  It has been purported to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of ailments.  For example, it has been reported that chemicals found in the coneflower a natural antibiotic and even enhance white blood cell counts.

       While I cannot substantiate claims of its medicinal values, I can attest to its value to wildlife.  This year, for example, my wife and I enjoyed watching bumblebees and carpenter bees daily visiting the blooms of coneflowers growing in our backyard.   In addition, the flowers produced by these plants were particularly popular with common buckeyes.   In fact, this year we saw more common buckeyes on coneflowers than any other plant growing in our backyard.  Numerous times, a single flower hosted four or more buckeyes.  

GREAT LATE SEASON NECTAR PLANT

        If you are like me, in spite of the fact it is late November, butterflies are still flying about your backyard.  During the past few days I have seen or have had heard of zebra heliconians, cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, fiery skippers, common buckeyes, common checkered skippers, pearly crescents and both American and painted ladies feeding in backyards in Middle Georgia.

       Remarkably, I still have a few plants that are still providing these butterflies and other wild pollinators with food.  However, one of the plants that has proven to be one of the best sources of late season nectar and pollen is a butterfly bush named sky blue (Buddlea davidii).

       This is a miniature butterfly bush that anywhere from three to four feet tall and three feet in diameter.  This makes it ideal for large and small gardens as well as large pots.

       In my area, the plant has extended blooming season from late spring well into late fall.  In fact, right now it has as many blooms on it as it has displayed all year.

       The purple flowers are both beautiful and fragrant.  In fact, the blossoms’ fragrant honey scent is especially pleasing.

       It grows in zones 5-9 and does well in a variety of soil types ranging from loam to the clay-type soils found in my yard.  It does best in soils with a pH ranging from 5.5-7.0.

       This small butterfly bush has been a pollinator magnet for weeks on end.  However, its nectar and pollen are perhaps more important to the wild pollinators right now than at any other time this year.

       Try sky blue and let me know how it does in your backyard.

 

BUMBLEBEES ARE HARD AT WORK IN YOUR BACKYARD

       I have long been a big fan of the bumblebee.  There are many reasons for my admiration of this large bee.

       For example, over the years, I have noticed that they are among the first wild pollinators to make an appearance in my yard in the spring and are among the last that I see visiting flowers late into the fall.  In addition, they are invariably the first pollinators to appear in the morning and the last to leave in the afternoon.

       As such, I have long been convinced that they visit more flowers than honeybees.  At least, in the case of blueberries, my belief has been corroborated.  According to U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, “Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators.  In the name it takes for a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

       That isn’t too shabby for an insect that some folks long believed is too big to fly.  The truth of the matter is they fly exceptionally well.

       I have long been a big fan of the bumblebee.  There are many reasons for my admiration of this large bee.

       For example, over the years, I have noticed that they are among the first wild pollinators to make an appearance in my yard in the spring and are among the last that I see visiting flowers late into the fall.  In addition, they are invariably the first pollinators to appear in the morning and the last to leave in the afternoon.

       As such, I have long been convinced that they visit more flowers than honeybees.  At least, in the case of blueberries, my belief has been corroborated.  According to U.S. Forest Service research ecologist Joseph O’Brien, “Bumblebees are extremely efficient pollinators.  In the name it takes for a honeybee to pollinate a single blueberry flower, a bumblebee can pollinate as many as six.”

       That isn’t too shabby for an insect that some folks long believed is too big to fly.  The truth of the matter is they fly exceptionally well.

    This spring the bumblees’ flower of choice in my backyard has been rocket larkspur. 

        My wife and I see these large native bees feeding at larkspur blooms every day.  We particularly like to watch them feed on blossoms growing at the top of a stalk containing multiple flowers.  The bumblebees are so large they cause the tip of the stem to slowly tip downward.  When this happens, the bees simply ride the blossom all the way to the ground.

       Another astounding trait is bumblebees will mark each flower they visit with a scent.  This is helpful to other bumblebees that might visit the same flower later. It seems when another member of its hive flies up to the previously visited flower and detects the scent marker, it won’t waste any time foraging for food in a bloom containing little nectar and pollen.  Instead, it simply moves on to another bloom.

       Some forty-nine species of bumblees are native North America.  Seventeen of these species live in Georgia.  They come in a variety of sizes and patterns. However, one of the traits they all share is their bodies are covered with bristly hair.

This spring the bumblees’ flower of choice in my backyard has been rocket larkspur.  My wife and I see these large native bees feeding at larkspur blooms every day.  We particularly like to watch them feed on blossoms growing at the top of a stalk containing multiple flowers.  The bumblebees are so large they cause the tip of the stem to slowly tip downward.  When this happens, the bees simply ride the blossom all the way to the ground.

       Another astounding trait is bumblebees will mark each flower they visit with a scent.  This is helpful to other bumblebees that might visit the same flower later. It seems when another member of its hive flies up to the previously visited flower and detects the scent marker, it won’t waste any time foraging for food in a bloom containing little nectar and pollen.  Instead, it simply moves on to another bloom.

       Some forty-nine species of bumblees are native North America.  Seventeen of these species live in Georgia.  They come in a variety of sizes and patterns. However, one of the traits they all share is their bodies are covered with bristly hair.

      If you have never taken the time to watch bumblebees, I urge you to do so.  The more you learn about them, the more you will be convinced that they are important backyard wildlife neighbors.