"The good man is the friend of all living things." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Why would anyone want to attract bees to their garden? You have probably already heard that our bee populations are in severe decline. Bumble bees are the main pollinators responsible for the reproduction of native flowers that create the seeds, fruits and berries needed by wildlife to sustain themselves. Bumble bees are also the main pollinators of our food, the fruits, nuts, and berries that we need to sustain ourselves.
There are many factors affecting bee decline such as habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture, pesticide use, climate change and the introduction of non-native bee diseases. Each one of us is able to easily turn back two these factors. We can provide habitat for them and we can stop using pesticides. It is up to us to create a patchwork of healthy habitat gardens across our community. If each of us creates a habitat garden, together we will be able to provide enough habitat to restore our bee population! I often get surprised looks and wide eyes when I encourage people to attract bees. The simple answer is that bees get their food from the garden-supermarket. What they like to eat is in the flowers. You are not their supermarket. You are not their favorite food. If you simply walk by them, you will notice that they are happily eating nectar and pollen from the flowers and have no interest in you at all. You can then smile knowing that they are busy pollinating new flowers, more vegetables, more fruits, and more berries for you to enjoy and for your colorful birds to enjoy.
It is simple to attract bees to your garden. First, provide native plants and trees that bloom. Remember that, like you, bees need to eat every day. Make sure you have plants blooming continuously spring, summer and fall. Native plants are the easiest to grow and require the least amount of water. My favorite bee plants are Hollies. When they bloom those zillions of tiny white flowers in spring, my Savannah Holly tree is covered in bees. I love to walk under it and listen to the intense buzz! I know the bees are happy!
Indian Hawthorns, in the spring, and Abelias, all the way from spring to fall, flower beautifully and also loved by bees.
Small trees, like Mexican Plums and Redbuds, are one of the first trees to bloom in spring and are easy to accommodate in most gardens.
If you only have a pot or tiny area, try an annual like African Blue Basil for its flowers in summer and fall. It will improve your cooking and feed the bees at the same time! Fall Aster is great because it blooms well into the fall and extends the season for bees to feed. For a more extensive list of plants and trees, refer to the South Central Plant List for Native Bees published by the Xerces Society. And, remember, please stop spraying insecticides and herbicides because you will be killing your bees.
More recently there is interest in “Bee Lawns”. This is such a great way to feed the bees. Instead of spraying herbicides or spreading fertilizer with herbicides in it, be kind to the environment and the bees and stop using these toxic chemicals. Some very cute flowering weeds will show up in your lawn and the bees will have an even longer season of blooms to feed on. The more you look, the more you will notice that “weeds” have cute dainty flowers in many colors. Once I started changing my attitude about what some people define as weeds, I now smile when I see a beautiful bright yellow dandelion with its intricately ornate seed heads bopping in the wind because I know that little flower means there is another bee out there with a full tummy happily pollinating. Don’t worry about getting too many weeds. I have not sprayed my lawn for over 10 years and I have fewer weeds than most people I know who spray their lawns.
Lastly, provide water for all your wildlife, bees included. Let your garden become a healthy supermarket for your bees. Then, get ready for the bee show!