Would you like to boast to your friends that your garden is one in a million? Now's your chance. All you have to do is register it for the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
The campaign is the creation of the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN), a collaboration of dozens of conservation and gardening organizations that have joined together to support President Barack Obama's June 2015 call to reverse the decline of pollinating insects. To achieve that goal, the project reflects its name. It's a challenge to American home gardeners and others to create and register a million public and private pollinator gardens and landscapes by the end of 2016.
Honeybees, native bees and monarch butterflies top the list of pollinators the effort wants to help. The challenge also stands to benefit many other insects as well as birds and bats that also play an important role in the pollinating process. The hope is that creating a million new pollinator gardens will help make up for the loss of forage habitats that are threatening the numbers and health of pollinators nationwide.
NPGN has one criterion for a garden to qualify as a pollinator garden: The plants used in the garden must provide nectar and pollen. Examples of plants that provide these types of food sources include flowering annuals and perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees.
"Ideally, native plants offer the highest benefits to pollinators," said Mary Phillips, director of Garden for Wildlife of the National Wildlife Federation, which is a co-founder of the pollinator challenge. That's because some native flowers tend to have a simple flower structure that makes it easy for pollinators to access nectar, Phillips said, citing coreopsis as an example. Hybrids, on the other hand, often have complex flower structures with many petals that can make it difficult for pollinators to reach the nectar. Phillips also pointed out that natives specialize as host plants for specific wildlife. Milkweed, for example, serves as a host plant for monarch caterpillars.
However, Phillips quickly added, all of the partners in the challenge realize home gardeners plant a variety of plants. She emphasized that the challenge is open to gardens with native and non-native blooming plants as long as they are not invasive. For lists of pollinator-friendly plants by geographic regions, check out the Xerces Society's list of pollinator-friendly plants.
Coreopsis flowers, pictured here, are great for pollinating insects since their simple structure allows for easier access to nectar. (Photo: Stilgherrian/Wikimedia Commons)
NPGN also encourages people who want to create a pollinator garden to include a water source, plant their gardens in a sunny location with a wind break, choose an array of plants that will provide continuous bloom throughout the growing season, create large "pollinator target" plantings and eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides.
The project is free and open to anyone who gardens regardless of the size of their garden. To learn more and register your garden, go to the Pollinator Partnership website and fill out the form on the site. Once your garden is registered, it will be visible through a search of gardens on a national map. The garden search function also will enable you to find out if your neighbor's garden or gardens of your friends or the organizations you support have registered their gardens. An NPGN support team can help if you have trouble finding your garden after you have registered it.
"The response has been amazing," Phillips said, noting that the NPGN website has received more than 300,000 hits. The nursery industry, botanical gardens, gardening groups such as the National Garden Clubs, Inc. and the three dozen or so partners of NGPN have done a tremendous job in educating the public about pollinators and the challenge, she said.
One of those partners is the Captain Planet Foundation in Atlanta, which was co-founded by media mogul Ted Turner in 1991 and is now chaired by his daughter, Laura Turner Seydel. The organization funds K-12 environmental education and related projects.
"Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) is a proud inaugural partner of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge — as pollinators are key to learning life systems in elementary school and a critical part of our Project Learning Garden (PLG) program," said executive director Leesa Carter-Jones. "In addition to installing pollinator gardens as part of PLG, CPF recently distributed over 100 PolliNation EcoSTEM Resource Kits to schools around the country in a partnership with DonorsChoose.org. These efforts, along with others by Million Pollinator Garden Challenge members, are beginning to move the needle in pollinator recovery, but we still have a long way to go!"
Phillips wants home gardeners to know they can play an important role in helping to move the needle when it comes to supporting pollinators. "Increasing pollinator gardens has the ability to empower the public to know they can contribute to meeting the goals of the challenge," said Phillips. "It will take every American doing their part to reverse the decline."
If you want to participate, don't worry about whether your garden is "good enough" for the challenge. NPGN welcomes gardens of all sizes, from a window box to farm borders and golf courses and everything in between. The group also encourages organization of all kinds — schools, faith groups and others — to join in the fun to help support pollinators. The effort is important because some scientists estimate that pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites of food we enjoy each day.
Another way you can help NGPN and its partners is to spread the word about the challenge on social media. Besides giving it a shout-out through Facebook, you can join in the discussion on Twitter through the hashtag #PolliNation.