Have all the bees and things flying around in your garden piqued your interest?
Or maybe you are already in love with pollinators and simply want to attract more to your flower garden or vegetable patch….
Whatever your reason just know that helping these guys out is a lot easier than you might think, fun, and very rewarding!
A LITTLE ABOUT THE BEES: Did you know there are more than 4,000 different kinds of native bees in N. America alone and that they range in size from 2mm to 15mm (from a fruit fly you can barely see to the carpenter bees you sometimes end up dodging in Spring to the even bigger wonderful fuzzy Bumblebee.)
Another awesome tip is that they are most always non-aggressive…as solitary bees, they do not have a hive to protect. They are not outside to sting you they are out and about on a mission to find food, a mate, and to build a home for their young.
According to USGS.GOV, “Native bees are the primary insect pollinator of agricultural plants in most of the country” and are estimated to pollinate 80% of the flowering plants around the globe.
FOUR WAYS YOU CAN HELP
(Food, Water, Shelter, and a Chemical-free Environment)
1.) No Chemicals. If you are using any type of Chemical in or around your yard…STOP! It’s that simple. This includes the organic ones as well. If the end game of a product is to kill things…you don’t want it around. When I say chemical, I mean any pesticides, and here are the most common few: insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, or fungicides.
There are too many pesticides for me to list here and most of them you wouldn’t really think of as such but nonetheless, they are. Please visit this link to the EPA “United States Environmental Protection Agency”, for a detailed list of pesticides to avoid, https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/types-pesticide-ingredients.com
I do want to mention an insecticide that has become very popular lately and even more so since it is summer and these are the sprays used by the mosquito trucks visiting neighborhoods everywhere. According to Michigan State University, “Fogging or spraying for mosquitoes or biting flies around the yard and garden with an insecticide can be very harmful to pollinators.” https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/potential-impact-of-mosquito-and-nuisance-insect-sprays-on-pollinators
Remember, these chemicals not only kill indiscriminately, they completely disrupt the balance at work in your yard (and in your soil)…after all, your yard, however small, is its own Ecosystem.
2.) NATIVE PLANTS
The amazing thing about flowers is that in addition to being a food source, for some pollinators they can be shelter as well.
The reason to go primarily with natives is that your native bees are already familiar with them (they have a relationship you might say.) The natives are also better suited for the environment…not to mention they take a lot less work. You plant them and you’re done, they come back year after year!
When you go to purchase your flowers be sure and get plants that bloom in spring, summer, and fall. Bees need a constant food source, so if you supply a patch of flowers for all three seasons they have more reason to hang around.
You can also visit your local nursery or extension office to find out what is native to your region. Here is a link that should help: https://www.nwf.org/nativePlantFinder/plants
A small list of Plants for you (natives primarily and a few Loved annuals).
- Coneflower “Echinacea purpurea”, attracts all sorts of pollinators. Blooms June thru Fall
- Asters (any species): Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) late summer-fall blooming.
- Purple Thistle (Cirsium horridulum), you usually see this tall plant along the roadside, serves as a host plant for 2 butterflies. Blooms May thru August.
- Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)..another flower most people consider a weed. Blooms June thru September.
- Oh….and leave the dandelions, clover, and broadleaf plantain that pops up in your yard (or just don’t mow as often), as these are some of the first food sources in spring.
- Annuals: Sunflowers, Zinnias, and Bachelor’s Buttons just to name a few. Plant in full sun and be ready for a ton of blooms.
When you go to plant your flowers remember that some of these amazing little flyers can only travel a short distance, so it is important to bunch your plants, to plant as many of the same kind together as you can. This enables the bees to better find them…..because if you put one in the front yard, one in the backyard, and another somewhere else, not only does it make them more difficult to find, some bees simply can’t fly that far.
Some of our native bees only visit certain flowers, so it’s important to plant an array of flowers.
The USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) says it well here:
About 20%-45% of native bees are pollen specialists, meaning that they use only pollen from one species (or genus) of plants. If that plant is removed, the bee goes away. If bees are removed, the plant doesn’t reproduce. Some of the native bees are specialists on the very plants that we use for food, including squashes, pumpkins, gourds, and the annual sunflower. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-role-native-bees-united-states?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
If you want to get really creative and adventurous with your yard…..grow a meadow. It doesn’t need to be a huge area, but the bigger the better. This method offers habitat, food, and shelter for all the beneficials. It is really exciting to see what comes up…what flowers and grasses you didn’t know you had. And do this as close to your gardens as possible.
The pic above is of 2 meadow areas I started. I had fleabane daisies pop up like crazy, goldenrod, and all kinds of asters…just to name a few. The wildlife and music just a small patch of growth brings is pretty impressive.
All this entails really is to place shallow water dishes throughout your garden. Place rocks in there so that the bees and things can safely get in and out and remember to keep it clean.
4.) SHELTER: (a place for them to nest year-round)
Now, the above pic gets mixed reviews. Some say these man-made shelters help to breed disease if not changed out frequently and are therefore unhealthy for the inhabitants. You can do a little digging and decide for yourself. I personally haven’t built anything, I just try to keep my garden how they like it and let them find, choose, and make their home.
Per Penn State Extension: Nearly 70% of bee species nest underground. https://extension.psu.edu/what-can-we-do-to-encourage-native-bees
Providing homes is essentially just leaving things alone and not cleaning up so much. Don’t cut back your perennials until late spring. Stack some old logs and or pieces of wood of different sizes in your garden…you can make it look as artfully as you want.
If you’ve ever noticed old pieces of wood with small holes in them, a lot of these are probably homes.
Don’t cover your garden floor with mulch (a lot of mulch is toxic anyway,) leaves make a great all-natural mulch and as it decomposes the leaf mold adds many beneficial things to the soil.
A dry bare embankment is also perfect for ground nesters…..as a lot of bees will return year after year. Bumblebees for example will nest in old chipmunk holes.
Also, a muddy area is essential for the Mason Bees. You can create this if you need to.
A FEW NATIVE BEES TO BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
(Let’s start small and work our way up)
- Sweat Bee (Halictid Bees) I’m sure you’re familiar with these little pollinators, I know I am… (very familiar with the small solid black ones that are always on me in the summertime.) Apparently, they can sting which I wasn’t aware of, I just thought they bit me from time to time. Most are ground nesters, but some will nest in rotten wood. You will most likely have a few different kinds flying about and some are pretty metallic colors (blue or green usually.) I often see these girls on my sunflowers.
- Mason Bees (genus-Osmia lignaria) aka…the orchard bee emerges early Spring and prefers the pollen and nectar from fruit trees. Mason bees along with the Leaf-cutter below carry pollen on their bellies rather than their legs like most other bees. They are also hole nesters like the leaf-cutter but the one really interesting thing is that they use mud/clay in renovating their nest…as this is how they got their name: the mason bee. Since these little blue-metallic bees do not dig their own nest – you can supply them with a place to stay for the winter….and they are about the size of a honey bee.
- Leaf-cutter Bees (genus-Megachile spp.) This black fuzzy little bee about honey bee-sized is another amazing little pollinator and like the mason bee, she carries pollen on her furry belly. These little girls will nest in hollow stems (this is exactly why you shouldn’t cut back your perennials until late spring), wood cavities, and sometimes the ground.
- Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) Who doesn’t love the fuzzy bumbling bumblebee…She emerges from the ground in early Spring (which is why you shouldn’t cover your garden floor with mulch) in search of a nest and food. Bumblebees are really cool, in that they can self-regulate their body temperature by using their flight muscles, making it possible for them to visit flowers when it is cold out. They can also “Buzz” pollinate, called Sonicating, which they do with crops like tomatoes.
So, to help our native bees and keep them around you need to provide three things….. A Chemical Free Environment, Native Flowers, water, and Shelter.
And if or when you are purchasing plants or seeds make sure they are not grown in or treated with any chemicals, especially “neonicotinoids”. The plant or seeds should be labeled as to whether they are organic or not (you can also google the company to check their practices.) I love to support “local” but if you are not 100% sure then find a good organic grower.
Check locally…maybe your Farmer’s Market. Every Spring and Fall a Wildlife center where I live “Reflection Riding” has an amazing native plant sale and a local farm “Crabtree Farms” also has a Spring and Fall sale.
Happy Pollinator Gardening!
Sources: epa.gov (United States Environmental Protection Agency)
usgs.gov (United States Geological Survey)
msu.edu (Michigan State University)