MASTER GARDENER: World without pollinators would be sad place to live

The native Squash been collects dry pollen on the entire length of its round, hairy legs. (Ron Hemberger)

The native Squash been collects dry pollen on the entire length of its round, hairy legs. (Ron Hemberger)

Once again the spring equinox has come and gone. This means that flowers are blooming, lawns are showing signs of green and trees may have bloomed or are starting to bud.

Along with this comes some watery eyes, runny noses, sneezing and even difficulty with breathing. The culprit? Pollen.

Why is pollen so important and what is a pollinator? A pollinator is an agent that pollinates bloom to bloom. A world without pollinators would be a world without apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, peaches and pumpkins.

But our pollinators are in trouble. They face many challenges: Loss of habitat, disease, parasites and contaminants have led to the decline of many species.

As you look around your yard or garden, you may want to notice some of our native pollinators. Ants, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, bats, butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, dragonflies, flies, wasps and animals are just a few of them.

Bees are the main pollinators for our fruits and veggies. Our honey bee contributes to production of many billions worth of crops in America every year.

There is one particular bee I find most interesting. We have here in the south the large Squash bee, Xenoglossa. This native bee is a solitary ground nester. They collect pollen from squash, pumpkins and gourd flowers.

They are distinguishable from honeybees. Honeybees have wide, flat-looking legs. If one is actively collecting, the pollen will be in a moist clump carried in its pollen basket. Squash bee legs are round and hairy. They collect dry pollen on the entire length of the leg.

How can we help protect our native pollinators? Provide food and habitat for them to help them thrive. Use pollinator-friendly plants, such as dogwood, cherry and plum trees. Choose a mixture of plants for spring, summer and fall with different colors, shapes and scents.

Provide clean water for them to drink. Put stones in a bird bath or shallow dish or bowl for perches. Be careful when using pesticides and insecticides. Use other alternatives, such as beneficial insects for pest control.

To learn more about pollinators, join the “Celebration of Gardens” at the Tupelo Farmers’ Market on Saturday, May 17, starting at 10 a.m.

Remember: Bloom where you are planted!

Mary Nell Gardner, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.