023-Attracting and Protecting Pollinators with Eric Mader

| Grow, Podcast

Does your garden or landscape attract pollinators? Attracting – and protecting – pollinators is something many of us have become more concerned about in recent years and for good reason.

The combination of wide-scale pesticide use and habitat loss are two of the biggest culprits to the problem. While it’s unfortunate that we are facing such broad threats of species loss and extinction, fortunately, we have organizations and people leading the charge to protect some of our most important creatures.


Eric Mader spends a good bit of his time evaluating wildflower and pollinator habitats, such as this section here planted along a large farm field. The idea is to create spaces that attract beneficial and predatory insects for higher yield and organic pest control while helping to restore insect populations and habitats.


The Xerces Society is a non-profit wildlife conservation organization leading the efforts to conserve North America’s native pollinators. Founded in 1971, the society was named for the Xerces butterfly after it became extinct from paving over its last remaining habitat for a military base near San Francisco.

In addition to pollinator protection, the society defends insects and other invertebrates through advocacy, education, policy development, and applied research projects aimed at protecting and managing critical habitat.

Eric Mader is our guest expert today. His role as Xerces is to direct the pollinator and agriculture biodiversity programs to private sector partners, such as citizens and individual farmers. A primary role is to oversee programs around conservation and biological control that manage natural habitats to protect predatory insects.

Why Care that Pollinators are Threatened

Pollinators are directly responsible for the reproduction of plants that so many animals depend on. Global plant diversity requiring some form of pollinator-dependent, animal-assisted reproduction is estimated to be 85-90%.


There are many ways to attract pollinators like wild bees

Wild bees, including native bumblebees and other solitary bees, are highly efficient pollinators. Unfortunately, many species are extinct, and others are threatened due to habitat loss and pesticide use. (Photo credit: Amy Prentice)


While perhaps the most famous of all pollinators, the honeybee is important, they make up less than one percent of the earth’s bee diversity. It’s the other species doing the bulk of the pollination work on earth. On a bee for bee basis, wild bees are more effective at increasing crop yields significantly greater than what honeybees can do.


wild bees

On a bee for bee basis, wild bees, like this solitary leafcutter bee are significantly more effective at pollination and increasing crop yields than what honeybees can do. We can also easily create habitat nesting sites at home for solitary bees. (Photo credit: Amy Prentice)


Many native bees are the exclusive pollinators of certain plants. Coffee is a good example. By in large, across the world of plant diversity, it’s the wild bees that do the vast majority of pollination work.

5 Steps for Protecting Pollinators

  1. Create, restore or protect habitat. Regardless of the space you have, everyone has the ability, even if your only space is a flower pot on a fire escape. It can grow a plant that provides what the pollinator needs to survive. If everyone in that building did the same, suddenly you have a significant area promoting pollinator needs. Even large farms are creating miles of corridors to promote native bee habitats.

    wild flower

    Large plots of wildflowers and pollinator-friendly plants are being added to many farm fields to attract native bees for habitat creation and their highly productive pollination services. (Photo credit: Jessa Cruz)


  1. Eliminate pesticide use. We tend to overreact to cosmetic blemishes. Instead, accept some imperfections in the garden along with the food and fruit we buy. The more forgiving we are, the better off pollinators and insects are going to be.
  2. Tolerate a bit garden chaos. Things like brush piles and un-mowed areas can make a significant contribution to habitat promotion. These are areas where insects need undisturbed places to build a nest, lay their eggs, and overwinter. Life begins in the soil and emanates to native plants and nesting areas. These undisturbed habitats are critical to sustaining wildlife.
  3. Anyone can tell the pollinator story. Tell what you know to share the plight and solutions for helping pollinators. Everybody can play an active role in advocating for pollinators. The Xerces website is a great place to start: take a pledge, use signage and visit their website for more ideas and inspiration.
  4. Shop with your wallet. Choose organics and products that avoid the use of pesticides. Supporting farms and food systems that support pollinators is a potent grassroots step we can all take to impact how our food is being grown. Buying lower on the food change also helps. Less processed foods are representative of a diverse diet of organic fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts.

Even if we do just one thing, it’s the collective efforts by doing something that makes a difference and really adds up.

Eric urges us to reach out to Xerces and let them know what we’re doing to protect and promote pollinator health and habitats. Their staff is very interested in knowing what citizens are doing on an individual, community and local basis to monitor and create programs to help promote efforts of pollinator protection.

Xerces is the right organization, at the right time, in the right place to help lead the change for the protection of pollinators and invertebrates of all types on a global basis.

Special Thanks to Amy Prentice for the contribution of photos for this post.

Links & Resources

Episode 049: When Good Bugs Eat Bad Bugs: The Business of Beneficial Insects

Episode 067: Predatory Beneficial Insects: Feared Foes of Garden Pests, Pt. 1

Xerces Society main website

List of regionally specific native plants to attract pollinators

Bring Back Pollinators (the Xerces website resource)

Attracting Native Pollinators; Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies book by Xerces, co-authored by Eric Mader

Gardening for Butterflies book by Xerces, co-authored by Eric Mader

Milorganite: Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener®

Books are affiliate links

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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