There’s no better time to remind customers about the eco-friendly benefits of native plants and pollinators than the present. Compared to their predecessors, climate change is top of mind for many millennial and Gen Z activists, according to a recent Pew Research report. No matter what generation they’re from, many gardeners are tapped into the needs of their local ecosystems. Kelly Rourke, executive director of Pollinator Partnership, shares some ways IGCs can ensure that these buzzy creatures and blooming plants are doing their part to keep our earth healthy and beautiful.
The first thing garden centers should be mindful of is education, and Rourke says the easiest way to do this is to keep the message simple.
“The public can get really easily overwhelmed when it comes to native versus non-native plants. Many people aren't really aware of pollinators beyond honeybees, butterflies or hummingbirds because there are so many of them,” Rourke says.
Rourke suggests garden centers focus on the “Three plants for three seasons” message, where gardeners plant at least nine plants that attract pollinators in their garden. They should plant three that bloom in summer, three in fall and three in spring. Warmer areas like Florida or California can expand beyond that since their warmer climates can support a larger variety of plants.
Along with pollinators, many garden centers can educate customers about native plants, as the two go hand-in-hand. For resources, IGCs can head to pollinator.org, where they’ll find toolkits, eco-regional plant guides and a host of other digital resources specific to their location.
“We promote native plants when and where possible because native plants are going to support native pollinators. The most recognizable pollinator in the states is the European honey bee, and not many people realize that it is non-native. So, natives are great, but non-natives can be good in certain situations too,” she says.
In terms of general marketing, Rourke says there's a lot of annual cycles and events in pollinator conservation that would be great for garden centers to capitalize on, such as:
- National Garden Month in April
- National Pollinator Week in June
- National Honey Month in September
It’s a good idea to start a social media campaign centered around one or all of these events. Build a social media schedule to drum up attention and awareness. IGCs can find social media tools and other resources to help get started by visiting Pollinator Partnership’s resources here and here.
“Jumping on these national, widespread initiatives that already have a wide audience would be a great way to get the message out there further and farther,” she says.
According to Rourke, a common misconception is that some people might think they need large, intricate gardens or big outdoor spaces to support pollinators, and that’s simply not true. People with small patios or apartments can get creative with window boxes or small pots.
“If you can get the right plants for those types of pots or boxes, you can still support pollinators in a great way. Pollinators can fly up and down and far and wide, so they really will seek out plants that they have identified as a good source of food for pollen and nectar, so they'll get there,” she says.
If that’s not an option, people can join a community garden and support pollinator-friendly plantings there.
“Another misconception people have is they think that they need to have a manicured or tidy garden. While this looks nice, pollinators — particularly a lot of native bee species— need to have some bare ground. We have a lot of solitary bees that nest in the ground, opposed to a hive.” she says.
She also notes that bees will also nest in the tubes of dry, pithy stems. Tell customers to keep this in mind as they’re cleaning their gardens for the year, and to leave some behind for the bees as they clean.
Bee not afraid
One of the biggest misunderstandings about pollinators is a fear of bees — specifically, bee stings. There are roughly 3,600 different types of bees in North America, many of whom are native “teeny-tiny” summer and winter bees, and most of them do not actually sting, she says. The only time most bees sting is when they get caught on your clothes and they’re scared, as they typically won’t sting just to sting.
“Most people think of the honeybee, which you see a lot, or they think of stinging insects that aren't bees, like wasps or yellow jackets. Those insects give a bad rap to the bee pollinators,” she says. “I would just try to help people understand that they're not to be feared. They should be celebrated because they're providing beautiful floral resources, and also the food that we eat.”