“Trees for Bees” is the theme of National Pollinator Week, which is observed June 20-26.

“Trees for Bees” is the theme of National Pollinator Week, which is observed June 20-26.

Created to promote bee-friendly practices such as planting pollinator gardens of native flowers, the theme highlights the many natural benefits that flowering native tree species such as tulip tree, black willow, northern catalpa, flowering dogwood and maples offer to foraging bees.

The goal of National Pollinator Week is to address the issue of declining pollinator populations. The event has grown into an international celebration of the valuable natural benefits provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.

Concern for honey bees in the U.S. is amplified by their crucial role in farming. Honey bees are the main pollinators of many fruit and nut crops, and officials estimate pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year. In addition to pollination, bees produce products such as honey, wax and royal jelly.

Delaware has about 270 registered beekeepers operating between 2,000 and 3,000 hives, many of whom are members of the Delaware Beekeepers Association. Each year, farmers bring in another 3,000 bee colonies to maximize crop pollination.

Pollinated crops include watermelon, cucumbers, strawberries, cantaloupes, apples, blueberries, cranberries, squash and pumpkins.

In 2015, the Obama administration unveiled the first-ever national strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators, which included recommendations from a task force’s pollinator research action plan.

Delaware Department of Agriculture officials unveiled a draft Managed Pollinator Protection Plan in January at the 2016 Delaware Ag Week event in Harrington. The plan outlined strategies and techniques to protect and enhance bee populations in the state. DDA is now reviewing comments received on the draft plan.

“One key aspect of the pollinator protection plan is to increase the amount of available forage for bees during the growing season. We’ve been working with the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association, DSU and UD Cooperative Extension, and farmers to identify nutritious plants — ones with the nectar and pollen that bees need,” said Faith Kuehn, plant industries administrator for the Delaware Department of Agriculture. “The goal is to increase the acreage of these vital plants within the state.”

The draft plan includes best management practices that beekeepers, fruit and vegetable growers and pesticide applicators can use to help pollinators thrive.

It also includes strategies to increase the quantity and quality of pollinator forage on private and public lands.

For commercial and private beekeepers, Delaware agricultural officials have established BeeCheck. It is a voluntary program that helps beekeepers and pesticide applicators communicate and share information through a DriftWatch link so that state-registered beehives can be added to the DriftWatch map to prevent accidental drift of pesticides into sensitive sites through weather or wind patterns.

“We wanted to help our state’s beekeepers have more open communication with pesticide applicators, and vice-versa,” said Chris Wade, pesticides compliance administrator for the Delaware Department of Agriculture. “Expanding this tool to a wider group can only help both groups improve that dialogue.”

For the general public, experts also advocate limitations on pesticide use — especially during mid-day hours when bees and other pollinators are likely to forage.

Other recommendations include planting species that are good sources of nectar and pollen such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, joe-pye weed and other native plants. For information, visit nappc.org.