Let it bee: Salem, master gardeners make space for native pollinators

A woman and a man look over plants in a pollinator garden.
Melissa and Tim Costa, both Salem residents, look at the plants growing in Waterworth Memorial Park’s pollinator garden, in Salem, Ohio, June 21. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

SALEM, Ohio — Flowers are blooming at a new pollinator garden in Waterworth Memorial Park, in Salem, attracting bees, butterflies and other local pollinators to the scene. Soon, gardeners and Salem officials are hoping there will be even more spaces in Salem for those pollinators.

To kick off National Pollinator Week, and to celebrate Salem becoming a national bee city through Bee City USA, the city’s parks and recreation department and local Ohio State University Extension master gardeners held an open house at the garden June 21.

Salem became a Bee City USA affiliate earlier in 2021. Being involved with the organization is about recognizing that the decline of pollinators is a problem, educating local residents on what they can do about it and creating more pollinator-friendly spaces in the city.

“Salem is a city that is so interested in the past, and does with a good job with the past, but I think this also shows that Salem is a city that looks forward,” said Marilyn McKinley, a master gardener and member of the bee city committee for Salem.

People look at a pollinator garden in a park.
Salem, Ohio recently became a Bee City USA affiliate. Being a bee city is all about recognizing the importance of native pollinators, educating the local community and making more pollinator-friendly spaces. Salem’s bee city committee and local master gardeners held an open house at a pollinator garden in Waterworth Memorial Park, June 21, to kick off National Pollinator Week. (Sarah Donaldson photo)


The city and the master gardeners started the pollinator garden in 2019. When Shane Franks, parks director for Salem, started planning to turn what used to be a volleyball court in Waterworth Memorial Park into a garden, he got a call from the master gardeners and Columbiana County’s extension office, asking if they could get involved. He was glad to have their help.

He initially planned to turn the space into a prairie garden, but as the master gardeners started designing it, the garden wound up focused on pollinators, instead. They started planting perennials in the fall of 2019, and kept going throughout 2020.

“Last year was so awful for everybody,” McKinley said. “And this was a place where we could come to work and just be out, you know, it was great. It really helped all of us.”

It wasn’t long before people started to stop by to ask questions while the master gardeners worked. Sometimes, they would have to stop working for a little while just to answer questions.

Flowers blooming in a pollinator garden.
Flowers blooming in the pollinator garden at Waterworth Memorial Park, in Salem, Ohio. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

Bee city

After work began on the garden, McKinley approached Franks to ask about making Salem a bee city. By this point, Sara Baer, a Salem resident who is now the public relations coordinator for Salem’s bee city committee, had already suggested the idea. Knowing that it would help build on the work that was already being done, they decided to give it a try.

Baer first heard about Bee City USA on a trip, to Austin, Texas. Many of the yards she saw were overgrown with flowers, and had signs in front explaining that they were there to support pollinators. She was impressed by how engaged the whole community was in the program. That’s why she decided to bring the idea up to Franks.

“What bee city does is attract people with other agendas and skills, and allows us to work together,” Baer said. “This is something we can use to teach everyone in the community.”

Through events and classes, the master gardeners and those involved with bee city have been answering questions and teaching people about native pollinators and their place in the food chain. One out of every three bites of food we eat are possible because of pollination, and the majority of flowers need pollinators to reproduce, Franks said.

Many people are eager to learn more, Baer said. They often get questions about what residents can do to help, how to eliminate or reduce pesticides and how to develop pollinator gardens at home. Being a bee city isn’t just about bees. It’s about all pollinators, whether birds, butterflies, bees or anything else. Most of the native bees in the area are small — what many would call “sweat bees,” Baer said. And the bee and butterfly populations can certainly use the help. Many of them are struggling right now.

Plants growing in a pollinator garden.
Plants growing in the pollinator garden at Salem’s Waterworth Memorial Park. (Sarah Donaldson photo)


One of the goals is to increase the number of acres within Salem that are friendly to pollinators, focusing largely on native plants, and encourage local residents to add pollinator gardens or pollinator-friendly plants to their own yards.

Bees can fly up to three miles for food, Baer said, so having more food sources within Salem will help pollinator species that are already there. The committee will track that on an annual basis.

To become a bee city, they had to get an ordinance passed through Salem’s city council. They got the OK, as long as the parks department took the lead and became the sponsoring city department. Now, Salem is one of only eight communities in Ohio that is a bee city affiliate.

“We’re in a select group, and we like the fact that we’re leading and not following,” Franks said.

Bee City USA uses National Pollinator Week as its official week for education and outreach. In addition to the open house June 21, Salem hosted presentations on pollinators June 23, and is planning an open house at the pollinator garden at Burchfield Homestead Museum, 867 East Fourth Street, in Salem, June 25, 5-8 p.m. The event will include art, music and pollinator education.

People checking out a pollinator garden in a park.
People check out the pollinator garden at Waterworth Memorial Park, in Salem, Ohio, June 21. (Sarah Donaldson photo)


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