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Attracting Pollinators

MARY SHEA has always been fascinated by native wildflowers. So when she noticed a lack of variety on her 40 acres of slash pine stand four miles southwest of Newberry, Fla., she decided to do something about it. She went to her local USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field office in Gainesville, where she applied for financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to plant habitat for pollinators.  

It took some patience. Starting three years ago, she prepared the ground by removing weeds and grass down to bare soil. Then she broadcast seeds with a hand spreader in eight-foot strips running along the perimeter fenceline of the forest, about 1.6 acres total. She couldn’t fertilize because that would only feed the weeds and she had to mow frequently above the seedlings to control weeds.

“It was worth it. My reward was a beautiful show of color the next spring,” Shea said. Now she maintains her plots. Every day she patrols the wildflower strips in a golf cart accompanied by her two-and-a-half-year-old grandson and a wildflower identification book in hand.

Although from the same perennial seed mix was used throughout, the flowers that have germinated vary according to location and changing soil types. Shea most frequently observes bright orange Indian blanket, golden blackeyed Susan, small clusters of light-yellow daisy-like  tickseed and showy pale violet dotted horsemint.  And the habitat has done the job, as Shea has seen an increase in a wide array of butterflies and bees. Among all the flowers, she said the Horsemint attracts the highest number and biggest variety of insects throughout the season. 

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. Yet habitat loss, disease, parasites and pollutants have contributed to the decline of many species. NRCS helps producers with technical and financial assistance for practices such as planting cover crops, planting wildflowers and native grasses in buffers and areas not in production, and improving management of grazing lands. Contact your local NRCS office to find out how to attract pollinators to your farm, ranch or home.