by Zack Hill
Normally on bright sunny afternoons, when there is no work to be done, and I have a free morning or afternoon to sit and enjoy myself in my garden, I love to watch all the comings and goings of the life that is constantly rampaging through my backyard. I will see neighborhood cats taking naps in the sunshine or dragonflies examining all the dandelions that I have been too lazy to remove. One thing I have noticed, however, that’s weighed heavily on my mind is how few bees I have seen buzzing about this year, compared to how many I have noticed in previous years in the exact same garden. I have been hoping that maybe the neighbors have planted a garden that the bees find vastly superior to my own, or maybe they have simply moved on to build hives in other places. Whatever the cause I decided to compile a list of simple things that can be done to benefit our tiny fuzzy friends, things that I am starting to do, and you can do as well to hopefully bring more bees into our yards and lives for years to come.
Plant beneficial flowers to help bees collect pollen and attract them to your yard.
This one seems obvious, but many people do not know that bees are more partial to some plants than others, and will want to hang around more depending on what is planted in your garden! Bees love colorful flowers, especially flowers that are blue, purple or yellow, so be sure to keep that in mind when deciding what plants to stick in the ground next season. There are also many plants they prefer and favor such as Bee Balm, Lavender and Black-Eyed Susans. Remember, if you are unsure of what flowers to plant to attract bees, most greenhouses or nurseries have bee-mix flower seeds that you can sow to avoid all the hassle of hand picking bee friendly plants.
Remember, bees get thirsty just like humans do!
Bees can fly great distances while gathering pollen and may become dehydrated at some point during their flight. However, by leaving small water dishes or fountains outside, with tiny rocks or structures for bees to perch on, they will have places to rehydrate along the way and will be more active around your yard. Bees tend to become lethargic when they are dehydrated so the better hydrated they are, the better they will be able to pollinate your garden.
Leave a bare spot somewhere in your garden.
I know this idea may sound counterintuitive to having a lush thriving garden with bees buzzing about, but leaving a bare spot of dirt somewhere in your yard can help ground nesting bees have a place to build a hive, and allow mason bees to gather mud that they use for building egg cells. Remember to mark any nests that you find so that you can remember to leave them undisturbed while you are gardening, and if you do not like the look of a bare patch of dirt in your garden, try leaving it in a corner of your yard, and planting flowers all around it so that it is hard to notice when looking at it from the rest of your garden.
Choose plants that can provide pollen and nectar.
Nectar and pollen are vital food sources to bees, as nectar provides all the important carbohydrates for bees and pollen provides sugars and fats for the bees to feed on. Bees have an easier time harvesting pollen and nectar from simple, open flowers. Bees would much rather find a whole bunch of Dandelions compared to more complex flowers such as Begonias.
Avoid using chemicals and pesticides in your lawn.
Chemicals and pesticides such as common weed killers and insecticides can actually be quite damaging to bee populations. Chemical treatments such as Round-Up can actually get into the nectar produced by flowers (especially weeds like Dandelions) and might get taken back to the hive where they can cause further problems. If you are looking to attract more bees to your yard I recommend using more bee-safe products like Neem Oil or Nematodes for insect problems and use a hoe or other garden tool to remove weeds from your garden by hand.
Hopefully by using these five tips you will be able to not only attract more bees to your yard or community garden, but also be able to keep them happier. That means more pollination and ultimately more crops at the end of the season. If you really want to do your part to help save the bees, consider figuring out where some local beekeeping classes are held and get involved in some hive building!
Fun fact: There are over 16,000 different bee species around the world, many of which are actually ground-dwelling. The fuzzy little honey bee just happens to be the species that we think of most. If you have any questions about what flowers to grow for your friendly, neighborhood bees, stop in at Bath Garden Center, on the corner of Timberline and Prospect and talk to one of our staff members.
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