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How to Create a Bee-Friendly Environment

Why are bees and pollinators important?

Pollinators like native bees, moths and butterflies, birds, bats, beetles, and other animals are hard at work providing vital but often unnoticed services. They pollinate crops like apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, melon, peaches, potatoes, vanilla, almonds, coffee, and chocolate.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators. More than 3,500 species of native bees help increase crop yields. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators.

Pollinators visit flowers in their search for food (nectar and pollen). While visiting a flower, a pollinator may brush against its reproductive parts and deposit pollen from flower to flower. The plant then uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed. Many plants cannot reproduce without pollen carried to them by foraging pollinators.

What types of plants attract bees to the garden?

Flat or shallow blossom plants such as daisies, zinnias, and asters, will attract the largest variety of bees. Long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants in the mint family, such as nepeta, salvia, oregano, mint, and lavender. Long-tongued bumblebees are attracted to flowers with hidden nectar spurs, such as larkspur, monkshood, and snapdragons.

Bees can see purple more vividly than most other colors and are most drawn to purple, blue, and yellow flowers.

As bees are most active between March and September, it’s great to choose a selection of plants that will flower throughout the season so you can attract bees all year round.

How can I create a bee-friendly habitat in my garden?

  • Grow bee-friendly plants. Bees need nectar, which has sugar for energy, and pollen, a “food” rich in proteins and fats, so choose plants that provide these. Keep the bee buffet stocked throughout the year by planting flowers, trees, or shrubs that bloom in different seasons.

  • Grow colorful flowers. Bees are especially fond of blue, white, yellow, purple, and violet blooms. Plant in clumps, so they’re easier for bees to spot, and grow blossoms with different shapes.

  • Shrink the size of your lawn. Lawns don’t have to be carpets of grass. Try leaving part of your lawn natural and planting shrubs and trees.

  • Bees need drinking water. They’ll visit a shallow birdbath or other water source, or sip drops of water from sprinklers and irrigation systems used in your garden.

  • Although honey bees live in hives, many wild bees take shelter in dead trees, branches, weedy hedgerows, abandoned animal burrows, or underground nests, so consider leaving a portion of your yard untended for them. Mason bees, which are especially helpful for pollinating fruit trees, use holes in dead wood left by beetles and other insects.

  • Plant a patch of wildflowers. Bees are drawn to native plants and wildflowers, which often produce much more pollen and nectar than hybridized flowers.

  • To help attract bees into your garden and make sure they have a reason to stay, consider building a home for the bees. An easy way is to install an insect house or bee box in your garden. This will help provide a home and more nesting opportunities for solitary bees and insects, therefore, encouraging them to nest in your garden.

Are there specific flowers that attract native bees?

Your State and Local Extension Service websites can help you identify specific bee-friendly plants for your town. Plants that attract native bees include:

  • Flowers such as anise hyssop, black-eyed susans, coneflowers, catmint, cleome, penstemon, globe thistle, milkweed, monarda (bee balm), coreopsis, daisies, phlox, gaillardia, and yarrow are bee magnets.

  • Sage, thyme, lavender, chives, dill, and mint planted throughout the vegetable garden and allowed to flower will attract pollinators to other plants.

  • Some early blooming trees and shrubs that attract pollinators are maples, willows, serviceberry, and redbud. They flower when not much else is in bloom yet.

  • Early blooming fruit plants such as cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberries are attractive to pollinators.

What are some nesting options for bees in a garden?

  • Build a bee hotel. On the surface, a bee hotel may seem like a structure that will create stinging problems. However, the occupants of bee hotels are solitary and do not form colonies like those of honeybees or paper wasps. Instead, each nest is “owned” by a single female, who lays her own eggs and gathers all the food needed for each offspring. There are no workers and no queen.

  • Leave bare soil sites for ground-nesting bees so they can easily burrow into the soil.

  • Leave hollow plant stems in the garden since some bees overwinter inside these plant materials.

  • Create a deadwood habitat near the garden. Find a few wood logs and pile them up horizontally. This helps create a more natural environment.

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