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Pay attention to pollinators for your entire gardening season

Sometimes, all it takes for an article idea is a simple inquiry from a gardener. Usually, that starts with the phrase, “What the heck is (enter inquiry here)?”

•What is eating all my spinach? Answer: Most likely flea beetles.

•What is this annoying insect that all of a sudden is taking over my house, looks like a boxelder bug and smells terrible when I squish it? Answer: Elm seed bug.

•Why aren’t the raspberries on my plants getting any bigger? Answer: Hmm …

It could be that they are not getting enough water, but typically, you would see the symptoms of drought-stress in the leaves, not the fruit; or perhaps a nutrient deficiency in the soil, but adding something (nutrients via fertilizers) is not always the best approach.

So what about poor pollination? Although raspberries are self-pollinating, bee activity still accounts for the vast majority of pollination. And pollinating a raspberry is no easy task. The female flower consists of more than 100 individual pistils (female organ of the flower), so pollen must be transferred to each one to create a mature seed and the druplet (an aggregate of fruit – all sorts of new nomenclature in this article!) surrounding the seed. There are about 75 to 100 druplets in a raspberry fruit, so if each one is not pollinated, then you could have small or misshapen fruit.

Now, the plant-nerd in me could continue to discuss raspberry pollination and fruit formation, but I am afraid that if I have not lost you already then now would be your chance to bail and skip to the comics.

However, it only exemplifies the importance of pollinators in a garden – for the entire season. Typically, the berries flower when much of the garden is in bloom: early summer. Yet as these summer days start to get shorter, we need to remember that there are plenty of species who need habitat and floral resources to make a new generation of pollinators that will over-winter in your garden and help with those poorly-pollinated raspberries next year.

In addition to providing water (dish filled with pebbles and water, or birdbaths), it is a great idea to have those late-blooming flowers in the garden. Take a stroll through one of the public gardens – Durango Public Library Garden or the Santa Rita Garden; or a community garden, such as Ohana Kuleana Community Garden or the Pine River Library Community Garden – to see what is blooming. Or just take a stroll through your neighborhood and see where bees and butterflies are landing.

I have noticed all sorts of activity on our sunflowers, zinnias and moon carrots. The hummingbird flower is still abuzz and the gaillardia was full of our native bees the last time I checked. The goldenrod (solidago spp.) is full of bright yellow flowers in the neighbor’s yard and the gayfeather (liatris spp.) is in full glory all over town. Soon, the New England asters in my front beds will provide a fall boost for the traveling pollinators, as they stock up on reserves for their long journeys south.

Late summer is a fantastic time to plant as the temperatures start to drop and the monsoonal moisture returns (fingers crossed). Check out the supplies at our local nurseries and make sure you tell them that you want your money to go to the pollinators.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.