If you’ve been gardening for any length of time, you have likely encountered the hype of a pollinator garden. These gardens are designed to attract species that promote pollination. We know this is beneficial, but how is it beneficial? Why do we want to attract pollinators into our garden? Our harvest may be very different if it weren’t for these hungry visitors.
Understanding the basics of flower anatomy will help explain the importance of pollination. Flowers have male and female reproductive parts. The male parts are found in the stamen and consist of the filament and anther. The anther is where pollen is located. The female parts are in the pistil and include the stigma, style and ovary. Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred to the stigma. This process results in fertilization and enables the flowers to produce fruit and seeds to continue the next generation of the plant.
Monoecious plants have male and female reproductive parts on a single plant. The flowers may be perfect, with both male and female parts within a single flower, or imperfect, which means the flowers are either male or female. However, monoecious plants with imperfect flowers still have both male and female flowers on the same plant. Monoecious plants are “self-pollinators,” which means the flowers on a plant can be pollinated by pollen from that same variety. This can come either from the same flower if the flowers are perfect, or from a separate flower.
Dioecious plants have male flowers on one plant and female flowers on a separate plant. Consequently, if you are growing a dioecious plant variety, you would need to grow a male plant and a female plant for reproduction to occur and for fruit to form. Dioecious plants require “cross-pollination” to bear fruit and reproduce. Cross-pollination is when the pollen is transported from a male flower on one plant to the female flower on another plant.
If you notice you have plants that aren’t producing fruit as expected, but otherwise look healthy, apply your knowledge of pollination and determine where changes can be made. Know your pollinators and invite them into the garden. Insects, birds and even mammals and reptiles can serve as pollinators. Incorporate plants with a variety of flower sizes in your landscape to accommodate the preferences of varied pollinators. Be responsible when using chemicals in the landscape. Avoid spraying during times of day when the pollinators are most active, which is often during the middle of the day when temperatures are warmest. Also try to use the least harmful chemicals possible to effectively treat an area. Do your research and look for alternatives to harsh chemicals.
Know the pollination requirements for the fruits and vegetables you plant in your garden. Many fruit trees, including most apples, require cross-pollination for best production. This means you will need at least two trees of different varieties for fruit to develop. Members of the cucurbit family such as squash, pumpkin and cucumber, have imperfect flowers so pollen must travel from the male flowers to the female flowers for fruit to form. Bees are the perfect pollinators for these plants because they are active during the day when cucurbit flowers are open.
Look for pollinator habitats you can add into your garden this year. Many low-cost options are available including bee nesting boxes and birdhouses. You may even want to set up hives in the proximity of your garden for honeybees. Make pollinators at home in your garden and boost your harvest this year.
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.