Making Your Garden Bee-Friendly
Honeybees are great partners when it comes to gardening. They help cross-pollinate what we grow, allowing fruit and vegetable plants to produce the seed and fruit we are seeking. Plus, as a bonus, we get to enjoy the products the bees produce in the hive, mainly honey and beeswax. Here’s how to attract those pollinators and more your garden more bee friendly.
Pollinators are Everywhere
Working almost unnoticed alongside those European Imports are many species of native pollinators. These include bees, butterflies and other insects. The Honeybees get most of the publicity, but the hardworking and efficient native pollinators actually do far more of the critical work of creating new generations of plants.
Unlike Honeybees that form a large colony and store up honey as a winter food supply, most native bees are solitary, living in individual nests. They pollinate flowers while gathering food to provision the several eggs they will lay. After working for several weeks to provide for the next generation, the bees die and the young spend the rest of the year hatching and pupating in their individual chambers, waiting to emerge the next season to continue the cycle. Depending on the species, their nests may be burrows in the ground, hollow stems of plants, dead tree limbs, mud balls, or even empty snail shells. Our native bumblebees form colonies. However, only a hibernating queen lives through the winter. Therefore, there is no need to store up honey.
What Makes Honeybees Different
Honeybee hives can be packed up and moved to new locations as the beekeeper desires. Not so for the native bees, most of whom are locally adapted, and only forage a few hundred feet or less from their nest. Therefore it is important that we create or preserve suitable habitats for native pollinators . There are some simple steps we can take that help, even on a small scale.
- Leave a few square feet of sunny ground undisturbed year-round for the ground nesters. No rototilling or aggressive hoeing. But don’t let it get completely overrun with vegetation either. Digging in some sand to loosen up the ground plus raising the soil level with an edging of boards or branches can help.
- Provide a shallow water source, protected from pets. Use rocks or chunks of clay or wood to provide landing sites. Some mud would be appreciated by many pollinators.
- Bundle up hollow or pithy stems from pruning plants like roses, hydrangeas, bamboo, sunflowers or dahlias and put them in a sunny spot protected from wind.
- Be judicious about insecticide use, even those ”natural” or Organic ones. Don’t spray open blooms that pollinators will visit. Spray fruit trees after petal drop when bees no longer have reason to visit.
- Plant more flowers. Flowers provide food, and food shortages compound all other issues pollinators, including honeybees, face today. A wide variety of blooms, from early spring to late fall is important for pollinator health.
What to Plant
EARLY SPRING – Crocus, maples, willows, camellia, winter heather, wild plums, bleeding heart.
MAIN SEASON – “Daisy” shaped flowers host many pollinators. Sunflowers are excellent. Clovers of all types are good. Almost all herbs, especially mint and thyme.
LATE SEASON – Asters, sedums, rudbeckia, cosmos, mid-summer planted sunflowers. Also shear back herbs in mid-summer to generate a late-season flush of blooms.
- Immigrants from Europe brought Honeybees to North America in the 1600s. Likely from England to Virginia in 1655.
- There are nearly 4,000 types of native bees in the US. And approx. 20,000 kinds worldwide.
- There are around 45 species of native bumblebees in the US.
- Utah is nicknamed the Beehive State.
The more we partner with bees and create a thriving refuge for them, the more we both benefit. It’s been a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
Coastal can Help You Help the Bees
Stop by the garden department where you’ll find all sorts of bee-friendly plents and more. Plus, Coastal carries bees in starter packages. Check your local Coastal store for availability, along with all the beekeeping gear you need to have your own hive.