Why garden for bees?
Bees are some of the most numerous, effective, and important pollinators.
As they forage, bees perform the critical act of pollination. As a bee enters a flower to feed on nectar and gather pollen, some of the pollen sticks to the bee’s body. When the bee flies on, it deposits some of that pollen on the next flower it visits, resulting in fertilization, allowing the plant to reproduce and to generate the fruits and seeds so many other wildlife species rely on as a food source. In fact, bees pollinate a staggering 80% of all flowering plants, including approximately 75% of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States.
Though all female bees can sting, they only do so when threatened. Honey bees, with hives filled with honey and larvae that need protecting, are generally more aggressive and likely to sting when disturbed than solitary native bees.
Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are on the decline worldwide, but you can make a difference for them right in your own garden.
Here are some other reasons why wild bees are important:
- Biodiversity: Wild bees are a vital component of biodiversity, as they contribute to the pollination of numerous flowering plants, including wildflowers, trees, and crops. They help in maintaining healthy ecosystems by supporting the reproduction and survival of various plant species.
- Food production: Bees, including wild species, contribute significantly to global food production. Many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oilseeds rely on bee pollination. By facilitating the reproduction of these crops, bees play a direct role in the availability and diversity of our food supply.
- Ecosystem health: Pollination by wild bees helps maintain the health and stability of ecosystems. It promotes plant reproduction, leading to the development of seeds, fruits, and new plant growth. This, in turn, supports other organisms, such as birds and mammals, that rely on these plant resources for food and habitat.
- Genetic diversity: Bees contribute to the genetic diversity of plant populations through pollination. By transferring pollen between different individuals and plant species, they facilitate gene flow and help maintain the genetic health and adaptability of plant populations over time.
- Conservation of native plants: Many wild bee species have specific preferences for certain types of flowers. By visiting and pollinating these native plants, wild bees contribute to their reproductive success and help maintain the populations of these important plant species, which are often integral to local ecosystems.
Unfortunately, wild bees, like many other pollinators, face numerous threats, including habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and diseases. Conserving and protecting wild bee populations is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, and the long-term well-being of our planet.
How To Create Wildlife Habitat for Bees
There are many ways to support and help save bees, even at home! Here are some tips on how to create a bee-friendly garden:
- Choose Native Plants: Native plants are well adapted to your local climate and provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for bees. Research native plant species in your region that are known to attract bees. Aim for a variety of plants with different bloom times to provide a continuous food source throughout the growing season.
- Include Flowering Herbs and Vegetables: Many herbs and vegetables produce flowers that are attractive to bees. Consider planting herbs like lavender, rosemary, mint, thyme, and oregano. Vegetables such as beans, cucumbers, and squash also have flowers that bees find appealing.
- Provide a Diversity of Flower Shapes and Colors: Bees are attracted to a wide range of flower shapes, sizes, and colors. Include flowers with tubular shapes (e.g., salvias, penstemons) as well as those with open blossoms (e.g., daisies, sunflowers). Use a variety of colors, particularly blues, purples, whites, and yellows, as these are especially attractive to bees.
- Create a Sunny Spot: Bees are typically attracted to sunny areas, so choose a location in your garden that receives ample sunlight for most of the day. This will encourage bees to visit your flowers and spend more time in your garden.
- Provide a Water Source: Bees need water for hydration, especially on hot days. Create a shallow water source, such as a birdbath or a shallow dish filled with water and pebbles. Place floating objects like corks or twigs in the water to provide landing spots for bees.
- Avoid Pesticides: Minimize or eliminate the use of pesticides in your garden, as they can be harmful to bees and other beneficial insects. Instead, focus on natural pest control methods like companion planting, attracting beneficial insects, and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
- Provide Nesting Sites: Some bees, such as solitary bees, nest in small holes or tunnels in wood or in the ground. Leave some areas of your garden undisturbed or create bee-friendly structures like bee houses or nesting blocks. These provide safe spaces for bees to lay their eggs and raise their young.
- Continuous Bloom: Aim to have a variety of plants that bloom from early spring to late fall, ensuring a continuous supply of nectar and pollen for bees. This will help support them throughout their life cycle and during different seasons. Check out our Spring Bee Buffet to help those early spring bees.
- Learn about Bee Behavior: Take the time to observe bees in your garden and learn about their behavior. Notice which flowers they prefer and how they interact with different plant species. This will help you make informed decisions when planning your garden and understanding the needs of bees.
- Spread the Word: Share your knowledge and enthusiasm for bee-friendly gardening with others. Encourage your neighbors, friends, and community to create their own bee-friendly gardens and contribute to the well-being of these essential pollinators. Use #GardenForWildlife on social media to highlight the wonderful bees we keep in mind when we are planting.
By implementing some of these practices, you can create a haven for bees in your garden and play a vital role in supporting their populations for the overall health of our ecosystems.
What Native Plants Are Best for Bees?
From early spring through late fall, native bees move from plant to plant, searching for protein-rich pollen or high-energy nectar.
But sadly, our wild, native bees are disappearing as more of their natural habitat is lost to row crops or development, die-offs from diseases and pesticides continue and the impacts of climate change take an ever increasing toll. Native plants are essential for native bees because unlike many ornamental and nonnative plants, they reliably produce the nectar and pollen on which bees depend. You can shop for native plants by your zip code.
Native bees are diverse and have varying preferences, but here are some examples of native plants that are generally favored by wild bees:
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): This perennial plant produces beautiful purple flowers and attracts a wide range of native bees and butterflies.
- Bee Balm (Monarda spp.): Also known as bergamot, bee balm is a colorful flowering plant that attracts bees with its nectar-rich blossoms.
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): Goldenrod produces vibrant yellow flowers and is a favorite of many bee species, including bumblebees and solitary bees.
- Aster (Symphyotrichum spp.): Asters come in various colors and bloom late in the season, providing a valuable food source for bees when other flowers are scarce.
- Sunflower (Helianthus spp.): Sunflowers have large, showy blooms that are highly attractive to native bees, as well as other pollinators like butterflies and birds.
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.): These cheerful, daisy-like flowers are well-loved by many bee species and can add a splash of color to your garden.
- Penstemon (Penstemon spp.): This genus includes many native species with tubular flowers that are particularly attractive to long-tongued bees.
- California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica): This bright orange flower is well-suited to arid environments and provides nectar for various native bee species.
Remember that different bee species have different preferences, so it's a good idea to include a variety of plant types, colors, and flowering times to support a diverse community of wild native bees. Additionally, consider providing nesting sites such as fallen leaves, brush piles, hollow plant stems, or bee houses to further support these important pollinators.
Are Honey Bees Native?
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not native to North America. They are native to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. However, honeybees have been introduced and widely established in various parts of the world, including North America, where they play a significant role in pollination and honey production.
In North America, there are native bee species that have evolved and adapted to the local ecosystems over thousands of years. These native bees, such as bumblebees, mason bees, sweat bees, and many others, are important pollinators and have their own unique ecological roles. They have coexisted with native plants and wildlife, forming intricate relationships within their respective ecosystems.
It's worth noting that while honeybees are not native to North America, they do contribute to pollination and have economic and agricultural significance. However, it is essential to prioritize the conservation and protection of native bee species as they are best suited to pollinate native plants and maintain the health of local ecosystems.
Wild Bees to Attract with Native Plants
There are numerous native bee species that are important for pollination and ecosystem health. Here are some examples of native bee species that play significant roles as pollinators:
- Bumblebees (Bombus spp.): Bumblebees are large, fuzzy bees known for their ability to "buzz" pollinate. They are effective pollinators for a wide variety of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, and many wildflowers. Bumblebees are important for their ability to fly in cooler temperatures and their proficiency in pollinating certain flowers that other bees may not be able to access.
- Mason Bees (Osmia spp.): Mason bees are solitary bees that are excellent pollinators for fruit trees, including apples, cherries, and plums. They are known for their efficiency in pollinating early-blooming crops and are often used in orchards as alternative pollinators to supplement honeybees.
- Sweat Bees (Halictidae family): Sweat bees are a diverse group of bees found worldwide. They are important pollinators for a wide range of plants, including many wildflowers. Sweat bees are often attracted to the salts found in human sweat, giving them their name.
- Leafcutter Bees (Megachilidae family): Leafcutter bees are solitary bees known for their habit of cutting leaf pieces to construct their nests. They are effective pollinators for various flowering plants, including alfalfa, sunflowers, and many garden vegetables.
- Mining Bees (Andrenidae family): Mining bees are a diverse group of ground-nesting bees. They are important pollinators for various wildflowers and play a crucial role in the pollination of early spring-blooming plants.
- Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp.): Carpenter bees are solitary bees that often nest in wood. While they can sometimes be considered pests due to their nesting habits, they are effective pollinators for a variety of flowering plants, including fruit-producing plants and wildflowers.
These are just a few examples of native bee species that are important for pollination. It's important to remember that there are many more native bee species, each with their unique ecological roles and contributions to local ecosystems. Supporting the conservation and protection of native bee species is crucial for maintaining healthy and diverse pollinator communities.
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