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'It's really all connected': Nature experts recommend food plots that benefit bees, butterflies

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 29, 2020 at 7:59 PM

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency reminded Tennesseans Monday that food plots aren’t just for animals like turkeys, deer and birds. They’re important for insect pollinators, too.

Jonesborough TWRA Wildlife Habitat Biologist Stephen Thomas said some plant mixtures are “as beneficial for pollinators as expensive wildflower plantings.” Mixtures of certain annual and perennial plants, including clovers, alfalfa and chicory that provide large amounts of high-quality forage for deer and turkeys, also provide a continuous source of nectar for bees, birds, butterflies and beetles from April through August.

“There are certain food plots you can do that aren’t going to be very beneficial for pollinators, but there are food plots you can do that benefit all wildlife, including pollinators,” he said. “Species like your clover species — things like white ladino clover, red clover and even a lot of your annual clover species — are exceptional pollinators that produce blooms during all three bloom periods in the spring, summer and the fall. That’s something you can plant and it’s going to come back every year.”

National Pollinator Week ended on June 28, but Thomas said “smart food plot mixtures” can be planted to supplement naturally occurring foods and promote wildlife diversity.

Thomas said important pollinators like honeybees and monarch butterflies are in decline, presenting a problem that affects everybody. By doing “little things here and there,” he said we can combat those declines that could have dire consequences for the region’s ecosystem.

“It’s pretty simple. We can’t eat if we don’t have pollinators. If you look at your agriculture in general, pollinators are crucial for your crops — especially honeybees,” he said. “Insect species, in general, seem to be declining across the entire world.”

Johnson City Parks and Recreation Nature Coordinator Connie Deegan said it’s good to set aside a portion on your lawn for plants that benefit pollinators. She said to consider other native plants that best benefit bees, birds and butterflies in Northeast Tennessee.

“It’s really all connected, and if people could get that, everything could change,” she said. “Just throw in one bush a year or one native flower a year and it will take off, and you’ll get into it.”

For more information about managing your habitat, visit www.tnwildlife-habitat.com.

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