There are so many benefits for converting a lawn to water efficient gardens. The most significant one, of course, is water saving. Compared with a lawn, a landscape with drought tolerant plants can save 30-80% of water. In a dry place like California, such water saving is extremely important. Another equally important benefit is providing food and shelter to pollinators, which a lawn provides hardly any. Pollinators play a vital role for an eco-system to survive and thrive, yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years. We all need to do something now to slow or stop the decline. Grow a water efficient garden that is friendly for pollinators is one of the great ways.
Garden 1: more flowers, more pollinators
After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown. The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore and have something beautiful. They wanted a garden with many flowers, a garden that would bloom year round. The project was done quickly, and the lawn was transformed to a garden. The plants grew fast after they were planted; in just a couple months most of them already grew to a point that would bloom. After just a year: A dream was fulfilled – the space now was filled with colors and flowers. Well, it turned out, not just the owners were happy with garden, some small creatures also did! When this seedling grew to be a bush and bloomed: the bees could not have enough of them: This bush also attracted bees, but of a different kind: Well, this bush was so lovely, not just bees, but monarch butterfly also liked it: What did the Lion’s Tail attract? This humming bird really craved it. It worked on every single petal of the flower, then another, then another: In this garden, after the lawn was lost and plants were put in, in less than a year, it went from no pollinators to all kinds of them: bees (2 types); monarch butterfly, and humming bird. While they all fed on the flowers, it was clear that the pollinators have different favorites and like to feed from different plants. To grow plants that bloom is nice; even better, if we can have more diversity with the plants and flowers of more colors, the garden will attract more pollinators, which in turn will feed A garden with lots of colors and flowers will not only provide a great view year round, but also turn a space into paradise for the pollinators.
Garden 2: bees love their native plants
Native plants are great choices for a water efficient garden. They need very little to no water once established, and, since they are part of the local environment, the pollinators have been feeding on them for thousands of years. Here is a bush of such a native plant, Matilijia Poppy out in the field. A bee can be seen working on its large flower. This garden was planned to be a California native plant garden from the beginning. At first, the native plants did not grow much. But from second year on, they went into this explosive growth. Look at the Matilijia Poppy, a native plant originally from Baja California that could be seen across the whole state: the first flower: In just a year, the bloom and green burst out: So many flowers, it’s a feast for this bee: Another California native, the state flower, California Golden Poppy, is also a favorite for bees: At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted what was out there: Beautiful, hardy, water saving, and great for pollinator – what is not to love? Plant some native plants in our gardens.
A serious issue – decline of pollinators
Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans. When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits. The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive. For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops. According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops. Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction. The culprit? while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons. Bee According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):
- “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
- Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”
The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017. It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species. In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as: “Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment” Humming Bird According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ” Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out; Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one. According to Climate Central: “the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate. Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.” Monarch Butterfly The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly. According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.” One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do, is to build more habitats for the pollinators. It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.
Big tech putting native plants on their campuses
In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators. Apple At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants. The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love. Google At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants. Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer. The bee is busy feeding on nectar Here is a parking lot on the campus. A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot. More plants, more pollinators While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators need. Pollinators are vital for our environment, and for us – let’s give them food and others when their survival depend on us.