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All About Pollinators Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

All About Pollinators

Dying honeybee populations are said to be a worldwide problem. Without them, people would not have many foods that are important to human health and enjoyment. These hard working insects help pollinate more than 75 percent of flowering plants and crops, such as potatoes, broccoli, blueberries, squash, almonds, cocoa and many flowering plants. The county is now planting a meadow to help these and other pollinators. On Wednesday, April 13 at 11 a.m., chat live online with experts about pollinators; the plants that help them; and what the county - and you - can do to help.

Suzanne Foster : Good Morning, I am Suzy Foster, a landscape architect with Stormwater Planning, Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. I look forward to answering any questions you have about the pollinator meadow at the Government Center as well as other questions about supporting pollinators on your property.

Anonymous User : Could you please distinguish for us between honey bees and other pollinators that are also important but may not serve the same purpose with regard to the food we eat? Why are pollinators other than honey bees important?

Suzanne Foster : Honey bees, like monarchs, are celebrities in the insect world; the monarch is one of the most common and most recognizable butterflies and their migration patterns are mesmerizing; the honey bee is a domesticated species that serves our voracious agricultural needs and has a sweet spot in our hearts. The plight of these two species serve to bring our collective awareness to the problems facing all native insects; loss of habitat, climate irregularities, and the extreme use of pesticides and herbicides. Insects are inextricably interconnected to plants which are the base of the ecological pyramid of life on the planet. Not only do we rely on them for pollination of our food, 85% of all plants on earth rely on insects for pollination and reproduction. The stresses that affect honey bees and Monarch butterflies are impacting nearly all species of insects and plants on the planet. For more information on the issues facing invertebrate pollinators check out the Xerces website.

Anonymous User : How much will the Pollinator Meadow cost to install and where are the funds coming from?

Suzanne Foster :

The pollinator meadow is actually a side benefit that comes from the county’s responsibility to reduce and clean stormwater runoff as it enters our streams on its way to the Bay. It is Stormwater Plannings’ (SWP) business to clean water – through that process we are also helping pollinators.

The acre of lawn at the Government Center is within the Resource Protection Area of the Difficult Run tributary; it has been maintained as lawn since its construction. Mowed lawn is only slightly less impervious than compacted gravel or even asphalt. Fertilized lawn increases the pollutant load on the bay. The conversion from lawn to unmowed meadow earns SWP credits toward the county’s state mandated Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. This acre of conversion will eliminate over 5 pounds of Nitrogen from entering the Bay at a cost of $6,800/lb.

Across the county as improvements are made to stormwater facilities, from mowed basins to stream corridors, native plants are part of the restoration. In 2015 approximately 271 acres and 2,700 linear feet of stream were restored with native plants converting mowed lawn to meadows, wetlands and woodlands. SWP is also cooperating with schools and parks on their properties to improve water quality and simultaneously expand pollinator habitat. Look for SWP projects in your neighborhood at the

Rachel : What plant species will be featured in the garden?

Suzanne Foster :


Pollinators need an array of plants as food and habitat sources throughout the year. While we think of the meadow as being most important, a mosaic of landscapes is critical to sustaining the native pollinators. The location of this meadow within the resource protection area (RPA) and adjacent to an existing woodland provides a compliment to the existing landscape types within the Government Center (GC) grounds. Through the phases of their lives and through the various seasons different aspects of the landscape are critical to pollinators. There are many habitat types from open water to wetland to woodland but the available meadow is very limited. As you walk the trails around the GC listen for the calls of many different bird species.

The first phase of the meadow will include native grasses like Little bluestem, Indian grass, Purple top, Purple love-grass and Deer-tongue as well as native forbs like Blazing star, Butterfly-weed, New York aster, Black-eyed Susan, Joe-pye weed, Mountain mint, Beebalm, Smooth Goldenrod and Penstemon.

In the second phase of improving the buffer to the stream, woody shrubs and trees will be planted in the transitional gap between the meadow and the existing forest canopy. This zone was laid bare when the forest was cleared to build the GC. This void has been taken over by the opportunistic non-native invasive plants dropped by songbirds, deer and the wind. The palette of the edge planting will include native shrubs like chokecherry and sumac, and understory trees like cherry, dogwood and redbud. A complete list of species will be on the project website:

Additional resources for plant species:

Joey : I heard bees are pollinators but I was wondering if other animals/insects are pollinators as well?

Suzanne Foster : Joey,
Insects are by far the largest proportion of pollinators. In Northern Virginia there are hundreds of species of native bees besides the domesticated bee. Across the continent there are over 4,000 species for bees and wasps. In addition to bees, butterflies, moths, flies, mosquitos etc., some birds, bats and even reptiles get into the pollinating game. Even mammals from rodents to fox and deer are involved in the processing and dispersal of seed.

Anonymous User : I think it is great that the county is creating a wildflower meadow to help pollinators. Unfortunately it will be unlikely to significantly increase pollinator numbers since it will likely be very small. A better way to save all insects and money would be to discontinue the Canker Worm spraying which undoubtedly kills thousands if not millions of pollinators. How is it that county can fund these two competing programs. As a tax payer, I consider the programs to be at odds with one another and therefore both a waste of my money. A better approach would be to take the money from the spraying program and use it to build meadows and educate the public about how their own properties are killing off pollinators and what they can do to help.

Suzanne Foster :

You bring up a topic that is better handled by the Department of Urban Forestry. The Canker worm program is a narrowly focused activity that is closely monitored and implemented to minimize collateral damage. I refer you to their Forest Pest Branch:

Ada Pictus : Can you discuss the role of mosquitoes as pollinators?

Suzanne Foster :


Yes, male mosquitos are pollinators, moths and flies too! Naturally mosquitos are found in wetland habitats and in those environments they are kept in check by the native predators. Just remember that increased native insects support increased native predators. Encourage these predators by providing nesting habitat, native plants and moving water for native birds, mammals and reptiles; and by controlling domestic cats and dogs.

There are many species of native mosquitos and flies that are beneficial pollinators. The species that carry diseases are generally introduced species. It is possible to reduce breeding habitat on your property. Control standing water in hidden locations like discarded pots, tires, and blocked gutters. Keep the water in birdbaths fresh by changing water on a five day cycle. This will interrupt the mosquito’s development cycle of 7 to 10 days. Any further concerns or questions contact the Fairfax County Health Department:

Anonymous User : What can I do on my own property to help populations of native bees? Are bee houses helpful or do they act as an ecological trap?

Suzanne Foster :

The simple answer is Plant more Native Plants! Bee houses and insect hotels in suburban landscapes and schools are a great learning tool but plant more natives. Doug Tallamy, Entomologist at U of DE and author of "Bringing Nature Home," ( presented research that a single nest of chickadees needs between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars to fledge one brood over the course of 16 days. Not seeds but living larvae. Those larvae are found in the woody branches and foliage of the native plants from meadow to wetland to woodland.

So stop mowing the lawn and start replacing lawn with native plants. Stop raking the leave – mulch them in place. The most critical action you can take is to provide those native plants. There are many local resources for native plants at the website for Virginia Native Plants:

B. Tull : Everybody knows about honey bees being great pollinators, what are some non-honey bee insects that are good at pollinating plants?

Suzanne Foster : Dear B,
Honey bees are actually an introduced non-native species. Basically a domesticated insect. They are "manageable" so they can be "herded" like chickens or goats. They are also very easy to monitor for this reason. They represent a very small portion of the insects that are responsible for pollinating the plants on earth. As I mentioned before, we have over 4,000 bee species on the continent, many hundreds of which help us out in Virginia. There are multiple species of native Bumble bees which are threatened or endangered. There are ground bees, wasps, hundreds of butterflies, moths and flies that pollinate our native vegetation.
Check out the Butterfly Society of Virginia's website for the hundreds of butterflies and moths that we can find in Virginia.

Anonymous User : I would like to start a small pollinator garden in my side yard. What are the best flowers to plant?

Suzanne Foster : Flowers are a great addition to any garden. When selecting plant species be sure to plan for flowers through all seasons. Bleeding heart, Penstemon and phlox are an early flowering plants that are important for insects like the bumblebee that will appear in March. The summer flowering purple cone flower and black-eyed Susan are great choices as they provide summer nectar as well as fall and winter seed source. Add Mountain mint and Mistflower for variety and to cover the ground with vegetation rather than mulch. Fall flowering like Asters, Goldenrod and Joepye weed come in a variety of species that range in size.
Be sure that the plants you buy have not been treated with neonicotinoids which are bred into certain plant cultivars to kill insects - they kill indiscriminately.
Don't forget the shrubs and trees to round out the seasons for pollinators. Woody plants provide habitat and foliage as well as other insects that are predators/food.

Valerie : Pollinator meadow like this are great examples of projects that HOAs could start doing on their own common areas. It's tough, however to get HOA management on board. They usually have concerns about maintenance and increased insects that people don't like - like bees! Do you have any advice for getting an HOA to feel comfortable doing a project like this?

Suzanne Foster : Valerie,
I can appreciate the concern. One way to make meadows more palatable is to clearly define their limits and maintain the edges with a lawn or paving. If people have separation they are usually more comfortable. At the GC we are using this technique. We are also planting the edge of the meadow with container plants that will be better behaved and shorter such that the larger material is not falling out onto the lawn and path. the lower plants are a combination of grasses and forbs.
As the plants take hold this strategy should become visible.

Suzanne Foster : Thank you all for your questions.
Please keep up to date with our progress at the website for the Government Center Pollinator Meadow
If there are additional questions please call at
or email us at