UPDATED 6/23 – This post is Part 1 of a 2 post series on pollinators. This first post is on gardening for bees. Even though some of the plants and garden care are the same for butterflies and bees, I feel bees need to be considered separately due to the great jeopardy they presently face.
Pollinators, the small creatures that visit flowers in their search for food, help 3/4’s of the world’s flowering plants to reproduce. What does this mean to you and me? Most fruit, vegetable and seed crops besides the plants that provide fiber, medicine, and fuel are pollinated by animals. 71 of the 100 Global Food Crop Species Depend on Pollination! Some experts estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of pollinators. Besides bees and beautiful butterflies, pollinators include moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects. Pollinators face many challenges in the modern world. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species. Many of the suggestions will assist all pollinators but today’s emphasis is on our bees.
Bees are the main pollinators for fruits and vegetables. There are over 4,000 species of bees native to North America.
For the last twenty years, our bees have been in crisis with over 40% of the United States bee colonies experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A single event like the spraying of pesticides or an extremely cold day thanks to climate change can wipe out thousands, if not millions, of bees. This not only damages the bees’ population but also our vital food sources in the process. If we want to keep berries, apples, onion, carrots, avocados, and many other foods, we need to start caring about bees. In North America, bees pollinate almost 90 crops. Texas honey beekeepers report that 2022 was the worst year for colony collapse.
What We Can Do
The city is the last refuge of the honeybee. Make sure that your yard is a bee haven:
I. Do not use pesticides in your garden. Plant an organic garden without the pesticides that kill honeybees and other pollinators.
II. Provide a water source on your property – bees love clean water to drink! Use a shallow dish or bird bath with half submerged stones for perches.
III. If you see a swarm of bees or find a hive that needs to be removed in your neighborhood, contact a live-bee removal and re-homing service in your area. First determine if the hive is for bees. Honeybees can be safely removed and re-homed with new urban beekeepers or community bee yards. If they are not honeybees, then you will need to contact a different kind of removal service. See Rescue Bees for more information.
IV. Consider using beneficial insects for garden pest control. For example, the Ladybugs are popular and are attracted to dill, dandelion, and fern leaf yellow. See Gardener’s Path’s article, 23 Beneficial Insects Your Garden Will Love. This guide is designed to help you determine whether the bug you see in your garden is harmful or helpful.
V. Use plants in your garden that attract and feed our helpful little friends. Below is a list of plants that would work in most areas, but as in all plantings, refer to local garden clubs or county extensions for information on your zone criteria and native plantings. Native plants are the plant species that are naturally found in your region that provide bees with the nectar and pollen that are their only food source. Native plants are great choices for the garden, because they are adapted to the natural soil, rainfall and weather conditions of your region. Bees flourish with the right plants for your area. I live in zone 9B which is very hot. Many of the plants I am listing will work well in most of the US but not necessarily zone 9 or 10. I am giving a suggested zone area for each plant. Please double-check for the variety or species you are considering for your garden.
Currants: If you live in USDA zones 3-8 currant or gooseberry shrubs are a must for your garden provided they are allowed in your state. The pink flowers attract bees. The berries are edible and almost everyone can grow them. A mature currant or gooseberry shrub can produce up to four quarts of fruit annually. NOTE: Historically the black currant was banned in the US in 1911 due to a link to white pine blister rust disease. It became an almost forgotten plant in the US. Its popularity in Europe has always been high. Later the US Federal ban was relinquished, and authority was shifted to states. Some states have lifted the ban, some have a permit system and some require varieties resistant to blister rust. Check with your local authorities. The Greener Grass Farm has a list of states and status as of 2015. Unfortunately, living in zone 9, I cannot grow a currant bush.
Crocus: The crocus plant is hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8. An early spring bulb that bees enjoy.
Hyacinths: are fragrant and appealing to pollinators. I’ve seen two different zone requirements – one is 4 to 9 and the other is 5 to 9. I think it depends on the specific variety. Be sure to buy bulbs for your zone.
Lilacs are a great treat for bees as they produce both pollen and nectar. They can grow in zones 3 to 9.
Pussy Willow Tree is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and is great for bees as it flowers early in spring.
Rosemary (for zones 9 and 10): Rosemary is a wonderful herb that can be used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Honeybees love this fragrant beauty and its beautiful purple flowers. For colder climates, rosemary must spend the winter indoors.
Sunflowers are one of the best flowers to plant for bees. They provide quality pollen and nectar for bees and seeds for birds, squirrels, and other wildlife. They are adaptable and can grow from Alaska to Hawaii.
For a year round bee haven, choose from crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac for enticing spring blooms. Bees delight on bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons, foxglove, and hosta in the summer. For fall, zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel, and goldenrod are late bloomers that will tempt foragers.
Wishing you beauty and friendly buzzing visitors in your garden!
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