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Chris Kelly, a Mattituck entomologist and beekeeper, surveys the Italian Carnolian Cross bees in one of his backyard hives. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Here’s a piece of information that might surprise some people in our area — even those involved directly in agriculture. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 35 percent of the world’s crops rely on pollinating animals like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to reproduce.

Over the decades, however, these species have experienced steady population declines due to factors like loss of habitat. In 2014, the USDA reported, there were just 2.5 million honeybee colonies around the country. Compare that to 1947, when there were six million.

Fortunately, there are things homeowners can do to help reverse the losses. Creating a garden with flowers and plants native to Long Island that provide nourishment to those pollinators is an easy way to make a difference, said Chris Kelly, a Mattituck beekeeper and entomologist. Common examples include honeysuckle, clover, lavender and rhododendron.

“Pollinator gardens have become essential because of the amount of development on Long Island and in other suburban areas where the native habitat has been affected or decimated,” said Kelly, who serves as director of agricultural operations at WRS Environmental Services in Yaphank.

Kelly, who presented a lecture about pollinator gardens this week at Riverhead Free Library, said they’re easy to care for and aesthetically appealing.

“They do need a little start-up maintenance, which is kind of the same the same as any plant,” he said. “But they typically get past that stage very quickly. And once they’re past that stage, the actual maintenance is next to none.”

If you’re ready to create your own pollinator garden — and help out North Fork crops in the meantime — read on to learn how.

Credit: Katharine Schroeder
Credit: Katharine Schroeder
Credit: Klaus-Dieter Schleim courtesy photo
Credit: Klaus-Dieter Schleim courtesy photo
Credit: Barbaraellen Koch
Credit: Barbaraellen Koch

Sources: Chris Kelly and the Pollinator Partnership

What you’ll need:

• Soil (either from the ground or in containers)

• Sunlight

• Water

• Mulch

• Rocks

• A ceramic bowl or clay pot

• Garden tools (spade, trowel and shovel)

• Native pollinating plants


1. Prepare your garden by loosening the soil and pulling any weeds.

2. Give butterflies a place to perch by situating some rocks around the soil. To make the space even more inviting, fill a ceramic bowl or clay pot with mud, which butterflies need in order to drink.

3. Space plants far enough apart to allow them to grow. Give them plenty of water immediately after planting.

4. Add a layer of mulch to the ground surrounding your plants to discourage weeds from growing.

5. Maintain your garden by routinely removing dead leaves, flowers and branches to allow for new growth. Water your plants frequently.

Source: Pollinator Partnership