You have likely seen the ads on social media or noticed the missing bee on Cheerios boxes, bringing attention to the plight of bees. We at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia appreciate the attention bees are getting through products like Cheerios, Burt’s Bees, and Haagen Daz, teaching through their ad campaigns and raising funds and awareness for the plight of bees.
Bees are in trouble across the United States. European Honeybees succumb to Colony Collapse Disorder, mites, and other parasites, and fungal and bacterial diseases. Native bees are declining from loss of habitat and possibly cross-over pathogens from the honeybees (an area of active research). All beneficial insects suffer from loss of habitat (think of how few diverse prairies or woodlands you’ve seen lately in Georgia), and from chemical use like systemic insecticides that show up in all plant tissues, including pollen and nectar. For the latest science on all of these topics, visit the website of the Xerces Society. Georgia farmers (both at home and on the farm) rely upon bees to pollinate their crops. Blueberries require bees as pollinators, and they are a major export item for Georgia farmers, shipping annually up to 90 million pounds, an ever increasing bounty due to our long growing season and good cultivar selections.
Cheerios recently launched a new project to give away one million wildflower seeds to inspire people to include wildflowers in their landscapes. Incorporating native wildflowers in all gardens from patio to mailbox to school and coffee shop does indeed help bees, other beneficial insects, and all the critters that rely upon them as food, from larks to lacewings to lizards. If you’ve been following this topic on social media, you’ve likely seen a second wave of articles and posts discouraging people from planting the seed mixes developed for the Cheerios project. The quick answer to this controversy is that the Cheerios seed mix, though well intentioned, is not ideal for all regions of the US.
We at the State Botanical Garden are sympathetic with both sides in this controversy. It would be a real challenge to create a wildflower seed mix useful and appropriate to all climates, soils, and elevations across North America. And even if you could, it would be very difficult to then come up with enough seeds to actually be able to share 100 million of them. Kudos to General Mills for taking on this effort. They have been funding large-scale pollinator habitat restoration projects, and they surpassed their goal of 100 million seeds (announced March 9, 2017), distributing 1.5 billion seeds in a very few days. The concern, the pushback you may be reading about from botanical gardens, conservation organizations, and wildlife agencies, is that the seed mix was not ideal for nationwide use and could actually do harm in several ways. The seeds may not establish well, frustrating patrons and dimming excitement about gardening with wildflowers. The mix could potentially introduce a weedy plant into someone’s garden that crowds out other plants or even escapes into natural areas, bullying native plants in their wild habitats. Both scenarios give wildflower seed mixes a bad name. The Cheerios wildflower effort did raise an enormous amount of attention for gardening with wildflowers to benefit bees. Let’s ride that momentum of interest and get great Georgia seeds into the hands of Georgia’s gardeners. Let’s teach people how to garden with wildflowers.
We here at the State Botanical Garden do not believe we could create a species mix for the entire US that would not create a problem in another region of the country. It would be difficult, probably impossible, to choose a single species that would grow well across the country and not become invasive in some states. Even regional mixes, such as southeastern seed mixes, are less than ideal. Think about the differences between sandy Coastal Plain soils versus the red clay soils of the Piedmont and Mountains of Georgia. Consider the differences in temperatures reflected in the hardiness zones from south to north Georgia.
Conversation horticulturists at the State Botanical Garden have been selecting native Georgia plants and increasing their seeds since 2012 as part of the pollinator conservation research at the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies and our Connect to Protect outreach mission. Since 2012, tThe Garden has been collaborating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and with members of the Green Industry (nurseries and wholesalers) to increase production of appropriate native plants for gardening and habitat restoration through the Georgia Native Plant Initiative. Through our education program Connect to Protect, we are teaching techniques for gardening and restoration that are appropriate for Georgia’s soils and native plants.
And here’s the latest good news ─ after five years of research and production, we now have enough native plant seeds to share! Visit the State Botanical Garden Gift Shop to purchase wildflower seeds selected to perform well in home gardens and in Georgia soils. These are beautiful plants with personality and stories of heritage, use, and connection to Georgia’s ecosystems and culture–and their flowering times will be synchronized with the life cycles of native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators in your region. Our SBG wildflower seeds will go on sale the last week of March at the Garden’s Gift Shop.
If you want to help bees and enjoy a garden of wonderful native plants, the State Botanical Garden can help you. Use our seeds and our techniques developed to help your garden succeed. We are happy to help. This is what we do!
Check out the State Botanical Garden website for ways we can help you garden with Georgia wildflowers:
- Recommended native plant nurseries list
- Recommended seed source list
- Recommended plants for sale at our SBG Gift Shop, Plantapalooza Spring Plant Sale, and Connect to Protect Fall Plant Sale
- Certificate in Native Plants classes for learning about and gardening with native plants of Georgia
- Georgia Native Plant Initiative increasing the production and promotion of native plants in the Green Industry
- Georgia Milkweed Initiative
- Connect to Protect outreach program and philosophy
- Publications on native plants of Georgia, identification and propagation, books, manuals, and articles