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Bees As Pollinators

You may not like them flying around your head but did you realize that bees are vital to the health of your garden. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the primary pollinators of many flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. They are not native to the US. They were actually brought here from Europe brought over here to pollinate apple trees in the 1600's. Bumble bees, a much larger relative of honey bees, are natives and if you have a have a vegetable garden, they are the primary pollinators of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

It's interesting to note that these critical pollinators really don't care if they are pollinating plants or not. Their only goal is to get nectar from the flowers they visit. But flowers have gotten pretty smart over the past several million years and they play games with their pollinators. Snapdragons are a good example of flowers that's a virtual jungle gyms for bees. It forces the bee to push and rub against the pollen bearing parts as it chases the elusive nectar. Nectar is almost always produced at the base of the flower and the flower parts that hold the sticky pollen is almost always positioned as an obstacle or hurdle to get around, and to make sure the bee rubs against it.

Did you know that flowers often have nectar guides, little stripes or directors to aim and direct the bee to the nectar source? The flower's goal is to make it challenging but not impossible or the bee to reach the sweet sugary nectar. In fact honey is just flower nectar that has been sipped by the bee. The bee then removes most of the water and then burped back into the honeycomb inside the hive to feed young and provide fool during winter for the colony.

Flowers figured out a long time ago that pollinators are critical for their longevity. In fact a flower uses bright colors and fragrances to entice these pollinators not make gardeners happy. In fact, one of the reasons that some flowers are white is because they are pollinated by night flying moths and insects and white glows like a lamp in the dark.

Unfortunately, gardeners are facing a severe shortage of bee pollinators in many parts of the country. Loss of habitat, a little insect known as a bee mite and pesticide usage all adds up to a scarcity of bees. So what is a serious bee seeking gardener to do?

To encourage bees to frequent your garden, plant nectar producing flowers such as abelia, hollies, butterfly bush, most fruit trees, Joe pye weed, sourwood. Most plants with a small, sweet smelling flower are bee favorites. Also, provide a shallow water source. Especially with the drought going on in so many areas of the South, bees are having a tough time finding a drink of water. Be very careful how you use pesticides. Bees may be killed if the flowers they feed on have been sprayed with pesticides esp. carbaryl (Sevin). If you have to use a pesticide use those that degrade quickly, such as a pyrethrin or rotenone. Both of those degrade quickly and are less of a hazard especially if you produce it late in the day or early evening when bees are back at the hive.

Bees are important pollinators in nature and in our gardens. Encourage them with a little nectar and water and watch your use of pesticides and our bee population's will.

Mexican Sunflower - Tithonia Rotundifolia

If you are tired of small, diminutive annuals that get beat up by the end of the summer, I want to to try something a little different. Tithonia rotundifolia or Mexican Sunflower is a superb alternative to our bread and butter flowers like marigold and begonia.

It's a husky, a little gaudy, rather coarse plant with spectacular flowers. Add to that velvety green leaves and the fact that this plant gets 6 feet tall. It is a heat lover and blooms from early summer to fall. Look at these 3-4" flowers with orange-scarlet rays and tufted yellow centers. I like to use it in the back of the border or as a temporary summer screen. It is a good cut flower except the stems are hollow. So, be careful when you cut it to avoid bending the stalks.

You can purchase plants in the spring or sow seeds if you don't mind them taking a while to get started. It even self-sows, so put it somewhere, you want it to comeback. It's extremely tolerant of drought, humidity, intense heat. It attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and gardeners.

Slope Management

How do we deal with a slope? Water rushes down the slope taking soil
with it, leaving only clay. Not a healthy situation. There are different
approaches. Try planting Ivy or using a mulch. If these won't work you
may have to consider terracing. You can use railroad ties or a series of
steps to direct the water flow. If these won't work it may be necessary
to control the flow of water with different drainage techniques. A
trench or underground drainage tubes will work.

Controlling Bamboo

Many of us have thought Bamboo attractive and effective at creating a
barrier. Only after time do we realize the Bamboo just keeps growing.
How do you stop it? It is difficult. Bamboo spreads by its roots with
sprouts popping up along the way. One method is to spray the sprouts
with Round-Up or Brush Be Gone. You can try to cut the roots as they
reach out but often they're as hard as steel. The best way to deal with
Bamboo is to address the problem when planting. Dig a trench around the Bamboo about 24 inches deep and put Aluminum flashing in the trench.


When Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) made its American debut as an ornamental plant at the 1876 U.S. Centennial in Philadelphia, little did the organizers and visitors suspect that this harmless looking plant would later become "The Vine That Ate the South". Many people believe that kudzu to be the world's fastest-growing plant. It's reputed t grow up to a foot in a single day and more that 100 feet in a single season. One of the reasons that it does so well, is that the vine itself grows from an enormous tuber that buries itself up to 6 feet into the ground.

One of the reasons Kudzu has spread through our the south is because back in the early 1900's it was planted as a forage crop for cattle as a cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil, and as a groundcover to stop erosion by highway departments.

Kudzu is not parasitic. In other words, it doesn't attach itself to another plant and remove nutrients or water. It's a hitchhiker. It uses another plant or tree, or abandoned house for support. It can grow so fast because it's a mooch, and doesn't have to develop a woody trunk to grow high into the sky and then blocks out the light to whatever it is growing on and eventually kills it.

If you're not sure if a plant is kudzu or not, look for 3 leaflets and in the summer to fall a reddish purple flower that smells like grape kool-aid. And it produces a pod of seeds that germinate the following spring as well as spreads by stems that grow along the ground and root at each leaf joint.

How can you get rid of it? Well, it is not easy. First, try to keep it from getting started in the woods or nearby properties. . Second, spray the foliage with the chemical glyphosate (Round-up) but you'll need to apply it several times.

The most effective but most time consuming strategy is to cut the stem near the ground and paint the stem with a chemical called triclopyr (Brush-B-Gon or Brush Killer)

Just remember, persistence is the key to getting rid of this nuisance. One other approach. If you live in the country, get some goats or cows. They love the stuff.

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By Monrovia Nursery Company
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia Nursery Company

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