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Helping area plants

Throw out Wednesday’s late-season snow and the wintry temperatures that lasted through Friday morning, and it’s time to resume looking toward late spring and summer.

And that made Wednesday’s presentation to the Steubenville Rotary Club all the more timely.

Members of the club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary on April 1, had the opportunity to hear from Juliette Olshock, the sustainable land care program coordinator at Phipps Conservatory. While the discussion happened through Zoom, as has been the case for much of the past year, the club plans to resume in-person meetings — with a video conference streaming option — in May.

“I work with local landscapers to educate and train them on practices so that we are not using synthetic chemicals — pesticides, fertilizers and things like that — so we can take care of our gardens and our lawns in a healthier and holistic way,” she explained.

Olshock’s talk was centered on pollinators, those creatures like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that travel from plant to plant, carrying pollen that is needed for the reproductive systems of flowering plants to work.

“Why talk about pollinators and why have gardens that support them?” she asked. “Pollinators are really important for crop production. Some information out there says they are responsible for 75 percent of our fruiting crops. So, think about all of the food we eat that is dependent on these critters.”

While pollinators play such critical roles in nature, humans are making things tough on them.

“Their numbers really have been declining due to developments,” she added. “When we put in new developments we kind of take away their habitat, so it’s important for homeowners who own their properties to be able to replant and welcome these animals back in.

“In addition to crop production, pollinators are important to the ecosystems — 80 to 90 percent of our plants require animal pollination just to be able to continue their life cycles, to develop seeds and to be able to continue to grow. They also are very beautiful — it’s fun to see them coming and visiting your property. They are interesting and entertaining.”

Having plants that are native to the region is one of the main ways to attract pollinators, she said.

“Wildlife has a relationship with local plants,” Olshock said. “They are suited to the local soil and climate conditions and will do really well without any additional fertilizers and pest control.”

Providing larval host plants and plants that provide nectar and are pollen-rich also are important, as is selecting plants with bloom times that vary from the late spring to late fall. Planting in drifts — grouping plants — also is important, as is perennial garden maintenance in the fall.

Oaks, she added, can support nearly 600 species of caterpillars, and native bees favor annual flowers, lots of perennials and many vegetables herbs and fruits.

There are, Olshock explained, 4,000 species of native bees across the United States. Pennsylvania, she said, has 400 native bee species while Ohio, according to the Ohio State University Extension, has about 500 bee species.

A series of studies coordinated by AllStar Ecology, meanwhile, reports West Virginia is home to 124 native species.

“Native bees, as compared to honey bees, are solitary and nonagressive,” she explained. “Honeybees are protecting a hive, and any bee that is protecting a hive will be more aggressive. A solitary bee is just kind of out there, trying to get some pollen and nectar to support her family.”

You also can help pollinators by not being so fast when it comes to clearing your garden in the fall.

“In the past, before winter people would cut down all of their plants,” Olshock said, “What happens is that pollinators will overwinter, and that means they will live in different life stages in our gardens. They might be in eggs, larva, pupae or adults, and they do this in different places, so they could be in your leaves or the hollow stems of plants. So, what we are encouraging people to do is that after your plants have flowered and bloomed, just leave them up and don’t cut them back until late spring.

“Specifically for bees –native bees will create their nests in the hollow stems of plants.” she added. “If we cut our gardens back too early, and depending what you do with the materials, you could be throwing away future generations of bees, which is kind of sad.”

If you have to clear your garden, she said to keep the stems in your yard and remove the materials after you know all of the bees have emerged. Some butterflies, she added, will overwinter in piles of leaves, so it’s best not to clean them up before spring.

We all are becoming more aware of our environment, and the effects that can arise from chemicals we use on our lawns and gardens. An example of that can be found by looking at bees.

“Honeybees have been suffering for multiple reasons,” Olshock said. “Habitat issues are more for native bees –honeybees are cultivated, and are actually considered to be a crop themselves. There have been problems with colony collapse, they get a lot of mites in their hives and then there are pesticides.

“If you are out there spraying and trying to get rid of dandelions, remember that we can’t see it and we don’t think about toxins being there, but the bees are crawling all over it and eating that pollen. A lot of bees have been suffering and dying because of pesticides — and that would go for all of our insects.”

Which is something to think about as we roll toward summer.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weiton Daily Times. He is president of the Steubenville Rotary Club.)

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