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Debbie Hadley

Hold the Mulch, Help the Pollinators

By April 18, 2011

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Put down your mulch fork for a moment and read this. Your mulching habit might be a hindrance to some of a gardener's best friends - pollinators.

Yes, mulch makes the landscape neat and tidy. It inhibits weed growth, and retains moisture in the soil. Good mulch breaks down and enriches the soil over time. But look at your mulch from a bee's perspective for a moment.

Bumblebees are ground nesters, and may be deterred from nesting by too much mulch.
Bumblebees are ground nesters, and may be deterred from nesting by too much mulch.
Photo: Debbie Hadley, WILD Jersey

Some of our most important native pollinators burrow in the soil. Solitary squash bees, bumble bees, digger bees, and polyester bees all nest underground. A few inches of mulch may deter many pollen bees from making your garden home. It's hard enough for a bee to dig a hole in the soil without having to remove two inches of mulch first. Add a weed barrier under that mulch, and you might as well post a sign, "Pollinators Not Welcome."

Does that mean you can't mulch? No, of course not. But leave a few areas of exposed soil where weeds and water retention are less of a concern. Ground nesting pollinators will think you've rolled out the welcome mat, and reward your efforts with an abundance of flowers and vegetables.

For more tips on inviting native bees to your garden, read 12 Things You Can Do to Help Native Pollen Bees.

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