Bee Smart: Mulch Makes Life Tougher for Pollinators

Meg Kerr of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island led the June 19 Bee Rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Meg Kerr of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island led the June 19 Bee Rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A recent Bee Rally at the Statehouse offered tips for helping bees, butterflies and other insects that give life to local landscapes. Here are some of the pollinator-protection tips:

Limit pesticide and chemical fertilizers. Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers disrupt the backyard ecosystem. The garden-variety Scotts and Miracle-Gro fertilizers kill bees, worms and other beneficial creatures. They are also unhealthy for people and pets.

Use homemade or bagged compost to fertilize the lawn and garden, and corn gluten to tamp down weeds.

Replace lawn with flowering plants. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island recommends aster, black-eyed Susan, lupine, purple coneflower, rhododendron, sunflower, and sweet pepperbush.

The New England Wild Flower Society offers pollinator kits and other planting ideas.

Avoid mulch. Mulch smothers ground life. Keep bare spots on the ground open and save dead logs and branches, which provide homes for ground and wood-nesting bees and beetles.

Mulch from landscapers and bags often contains harmful chemicals and dyes. Instead apply a mix of compost and shredded leaves to reduce unwanted weeds and protect insects. Or use a wood mulch that contains a mix of live and shredded wood rather than just tree bark. It can be made with a chipper/shredder or even offered for free by your local public works department.

Another sustainable mulch can be made using the “chop and drop” technique. After plants die off in the winter or spring, chop or break them into bits and scatter the material back into the garden and plants will grow through the clippings.

Bagged seaweed mulches and Coast of Maine dark harbor bark are recommended mulches to buy if you can't make your own.

Let go of the golf-course lawn. Short grass and manicured bushes are generally void of life. Let the grass grow to allow roots to strengthen. Revitalize your lawn with native grasses, plants and flowers. For help, the Ecological Landscape Alliance offers a directory of local experts who promote sustainable landscapes.

“If we are going to have pollinator habitat it is going to have to look more rough and wild,” said Meg Kerr, senior director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

Audubon recently begun construction of a pollinator discovery garden at its Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol.