As you probably know, pollinators are rapidly declining in the U.S. One reason is the rampant use of chemicals in yards to control weeds and pests.
We can do our part to increase the numbers of bees and other pollinators if we provide them a safe place to nest and feed. I know a lot of people hate bees, or are afraid of being stung (especially if you’re allergic to stings!) but if we give them a place to gather and be on the lookout for them, we can all live together peaceably. If you are highly allergic, however, this is not for you.
Pollinators are essential to the continuing growth of all your vegetable plants and fruit trees. In laymans terms, as they land on a flower and collect pollen and nectar, some of the pollen from the stamens (male reproduction organ) sticks to them, and as they go to the next flower blossom, it is spread to the stigma (female reproductive organ). This makes reproduction possible, which is then how the fruit develops, which provides the seeds for the plant to continue.
Without pollinators like bees, we would have to do the pollinating ourselves. Awkward. And impossible in large fields of crops.
By paying attention to what you plant in your yard, you can provide bees and other pollinators plenty of food.
- grow flowering plants in our yards to provide food and habitat for honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
- choose single flower tops over double flower tops, because there’s more nectar and it’s easier for them to extract. Single flowertops would be like marigolds and daisies. Some impatiens have double flowertops.
- Skip the hybridized plants – they’ve been bred not to seed, and produce less pollen.
- Plan for year round blooms to provide season long food for the pollinators. For example, in spring you could have crocus, hyacinth, calendula, and lilac. In summer you may have bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons, foxglove, and hosta. In fall, you can have zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel, or goldenrod.
In addition to providing food for bees and other pollinators, you can provide homes and habitat for them as well.
- leave a patch of yard uncultivated for bees that burrow and bees that need soil surface for nesting.
- make a pile of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds, or nesting blocks of untreated wood for bees that nest in wood.
- Remember flowering shrubs provide habitat and shelter.
- Mason bees need water and dirt to make mud for nesting.
- Many bees are attracted to weedy untended hedgerows as well, so leave a bit of yard natural for them.
- only use natural pesticides and fertilizers in your yard as much as you can. And don’t use any in the spaces you’ve set aside for them. Don’t worry, lady bugs, spiders, and praying mantis will do the job for you in these natural areas.
Now that we’ve taken care of their needs for food and habitat, let’s talk about water. Bees need fresh, clean water. Fill a shallow container with water, then add pebbles and/or twigs for them to land on while drinking. Keep it full. They’ll thank you for it.
As an added bonus, let’s talk about the kinds of flowers that bees love.
Flowers that bees love
- plant a variety of shapes – from flat to tubular flower heads
- plant for spring thru fall blooms
- leave dandelions and clover in your yard
- don’t use herbicides or insecticides or pesticides
- don’t buy hybrid plants (don’t seed, less pollen)
Here’s some suggestions for flowers per season:
Early Spring – pansies, pussy willow, snowdrops
Spring/Summer – peony, milkweed (also needed by butterflies), bee balm, lavender, phlox, zinnias, marigolds, goldenrod, chives
Late Summer/Fall – mint, sage, nasturtium, black eyed susans, thyme, oregano
Also research the native plants in your area for ideas of what to plant in your bee garden. Even if you only designate a small area of your yard to a bee garden, you will be providing our pollinators a safe place to nest and food and water to sustain them. Your vegetable plants and fruit trees will thank you.
For more information on this topic, visit TheHoneybeeConservancy.org.