Bees as a watchable wildlife, you might ask? Don’t worry, nearly all species of bees are gentle and will not sting you. They are simply searching for food, pollen and nectar. Bees move pollen from flower to flower so vegetables and fruits can grow and develop. As a bee visits a flower or blossom, there fuzzy bodies and hairy legs attract the flower’s pollen. Upon visiting the next flower the pollen grains rub off the bee’s legs onto that flower’s stigma. That’s when fertilization takes place. As a result, our gardens fill with vegetables and our fruit trees bear crops. Nothing happens in the vegetable garden without pollination. By selecting the best bee-rewarding plants, you can attract beneficial pollinating bees and other creatures to your flower and vegetable garden or backyard fruit orchard.
It is important for modern gardeners to ensure that there is plenty of food producing flowers to attract bees. A good way to attract bees is to plant colorful flowers in groups and plant sweet smelling herbs such as basil among your vegetable crops. Please come in so we can show all the bee friendly plants that we have to offer. Bees also need sources of water which can be provided from a dripping faucet, pond or bird bath. If you or your neighbors can tolerate a dead tree or at least some dead branches these will prove invaluable as nesting sites for many bees. Some bees prefer to nest in open ground so leave a small patch of bare dirt in or near your garden. Often it is not floral abundance but rather nesting sites that is limiting for our native bees.
Nectar, pollen, water, nesting materials and open ground – combine these ingredients and your collaboration with nature should result in larger and tastier fruits and vegetables. By creating a small haven for all pollinators you can play a small but vital role in reversing the dramatic pollinator declines. It may not seem like much but magnified across our state and across the country these gardens can serve a vital role by feeding and protecting many threatened species of pollinators.
More advice for attracting bees and other pollinators:
- Choose several colors of flowers. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.
- Plant flowers in clumps. Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat patch.
- Include flowers of different shapes. There are four thousand different species of bees in North America and they are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths and feed on different shaped flowers. Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees benefit.
- Have a diversity of plants blooming all season. Most bees are generalists feeding on a range of plants through their life cycle. By having several plant species blooming at once and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer and fall you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.
- Plant where bees will visit. Bees favor sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds.
- Use native plants. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also usually adapted to our growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.
- Don’t use pesticides. Most pesticides are not selective. You are killing off the beneficial bugs along with the pests. Organic insecticidal soap is made from plant oils and animal fats. Safe soaps can be used indoors and outdoors to kill aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and whiteflies. It can be used up to the day of harvest and does not kill beneficial insects such as ladybugs, praying mantis and others.