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Become a Smarter Gardener in 2019: Grow plants for bats!

Datura metel 'Ballerina white' is pollinated by bats.
Yard and Garden News has been buzzing with posts about planting for insect pollinators. April 17th marks "Bat Appreciation Day 2019," so I recommend planting for one of our mammalian pollinators: Bats!

Why be 'Bat Friendly'?

Like insects, bats are also important pollinators. Are you a fan of margaritas? Bats are the chief pollinator of the agave plant, the source of tequila. Bats also pollinate giant cacti, bananas, peaches, cloves, and carob, to name a few. They also disperse seeds. In fact, fruit bats spread new seed, regenerating cleared tropical forests, by defecating as they fly.

Bats are one of your best defenses when it comes to insect pest management. They are insectivores and will eat anywhere from 4-8 grams of insects in a single night. Pregnant or nursing mother bats will eat their weight in insects.

Bats are worth their weight

Bats hunt and devour some of our peskiest garden offenders: leafhoppers, wasps, moths, flies, June bugs, cutworms, and of course, mosquitoes. Bats are so important for pest control that scientists estimate bats are worth over $3.7 billion a years in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.

How to be bat friendly

Evening primrose (Oenothera)
Along with pest control, planting for bats will extend the beauty of your garden into the evening. Here in Minnesota, consider planting a mix of annuals and perennials like
Datura, evening primrose, four o'clocks, moonflower, Nicotiana, mock orange, evening stock, and oriental lilies.

Gardeners may choose to install a bat house as well to provide protection and habitat. Mount it on a post 8-10 feet above the ground facing south
to southwest to maximize solar warmth for the bat pups and near a water source (pond, lake, river, etc.).

Lighting in your garden will attract insects in the evening thus providing a food source for bats and show off the night blooming flowers. I am definitely going to add some of these to my home garden!

More about bats

According to Bat Conservation International (BCI), bats are widely misunderstood. They are are not blind - they see as well as other mammals - and possess a unique sonar system called echolocation. The bat emits a beep-like sound and analyzes the echoes that bounce back. This biological system gives them the ability to navigate in total darkness and to hunt and capture fast-flying insects.

And did you know--here's another misconception: bats also are no more likely to get rabies than other
Four o'clocks (Mirabilis)
mammals - not rodents -and the vast majority are not infected.

Bats give birth to one "pup" at a time, and nurse them for about 4-6 weeks until they can fly.

The best advice? Like any other wild animal, leave them alone. Don't handle them. Oh - and bats won't get tangled in your hair either. They're smarter and too agile to let that happen.

Health challenges

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is decimating bat populations, meaning we need to do all we can to support these animals that are so important to our ecosystem.
Nicotiana 'Dwarf white'

This fungal disease thrives in cold, damp conditions like the caves bats hibernate in and grows over the muzzle of the bat during hibernation, causing it to awaken, become active and ultimately die from cold. The MN DNR stresses the importance of staying out of caves where bats hibernate, so not to disturb them or spread WNS, and to support bats by retaining large trees, protecting wetlands, and putting up a bat house on your property.

Some resources

Bat Conservation International, Accessed April 16, 2019.

Brenemen, J. "Seeing the Forest for the Bats", UMN Swenson College of Science and Engineering, August 30, 2017. Accessed April 17, 2019.

Jensen, E. "Make your garden batty", Minnesota Gardener Magazine, August 2013. Accessed April 17, 2019.

"White-nose Syndrome and Minnesota's Bats", Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Accessed April 17, 2019.

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator - Horticulture

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