What would a vegetable garden be without pollinators. Unfortunately I’ve been hearing from some readers that they aren’t seeing as many bees as in prior years. Colony collapse is definitely taking its toll, but there are a few things we can do to attract more bees and other pollinators to our gardens and it doesn’t require much additional effort on our part. Listen in or keep reading for the full write up.
I’ve been hearing from some of you that you don’t have as many bees in your vegetable garden as you remember there being. Bees have been having a tough time lately, but you should still be attracting enough pollinators to your garden to get your plants pollinated.
There are some plants, like squash and cucumbers, that need to be pollinated multiple times before they will set viable fruits. These plants might need a little manual help from you, for sufficient pollination to take place. But on the whole, your vegetable garden should be a pollinators Mecca.
If it isn’t, there could be a few culprits. First, make sure you are not spraying insecticides indiscriminately. Even the botanic and organic pesticides can kill the “good” bugs, too.
The problem could also be caused by weather. Insects can’t fly in heavy rain or strong winds. But bad weather doesn’t last forever, so that’s just a temporary cause. But factor in humidity, soil moisture, and temperature – all of which factor in to how much nectar is secreted – and you could have a real problem that is mostly out of our control.
It could also be that there aren’t enough nectar and pollen rich plants in your vegetable garden for the insects to find it. Sure, there’s food for them in tomato blossoms, but tomato flowers aren’t all that showy. If you want your vegetable garden to be buzzing, tuck some showy flowers in there.
And not just any flowers. A lot of the currently popular flowers have been bred to appeal to gardeners, not bees. They have bigger flowers or disease resistance or a buttery shade of yellow. Those features can often come at a price. We’ve all noticed how scent has just about disappeared from garden flowers these days.
Unfortunately, many modern hybrids produce little pollen or nectar and some are actually sterile, which makes them of little use to bees and other pollinators. They don’t care how pretty the flower is. Bees need nectar for its sugar, which is their main source of energy. They also need the proteins and fats provided by pollen.
So Which Flowers are the Right Flowers?
Ideally you will have a variety of flowers, blooming throughout the growing season, to keep pollinating insects well fed and happy to stick around. The flowers don’t all have to be in your vegetable garden. Nearby borders will attract them to the general vicinity. However you don’t want them to hop over the vegetables, so a few clumps should definitely be included with the vegetables.
Start your selection by sifting through native plants and heirloom flowers and choosing flowers that you know grow well in our area. Salvias, asters, black-eyed Susans, and Sedums would fit the bill. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than introduced flowers, but heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.
Some garden plants that still offer enough pollen and nectar to be useful include: zinnias, lavender, hyssop, and globe thistle. I’ll have a longer list on the web site.
Whatever you choose to grow, plant them in large clumps, so bees and other pollinators can find them easily. Here are a few more tips for making pollinators feel at home.
❦ Don’t use pesticides. They are not selective and will kill just about anything. If you absolutely must use a pesticide, start with the least toxic one and follow the label instructions to the letter.
❦ Plant your flowers in a sunny spot. Not only is it better for the flowers, bees prefer sun over shade.
❦ Provide some type of wind break, so your pollinators aren’t being tossed about when they come to visit.
❦ Go for color. Bees use their color vision to help them find food. They are particularly attracted to flowers that are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
❦ Mix it up with flower shapes. Bees have different tongue lengths and different bees feed on different shaped flowers. There are 4,000 species of bees in North America. We can’t please them all, but we can try.
If you want to find out more about the plight of bees and how to garden to attract them, a good place to start is your local chapter of the Xerces Society.
We need bees in our gardens. Thankfully bees don’t tend to be aggressive and won’t bother you while you both work in the garden. Until they figure our what is causing colony collapse, we need to be extra considerate of the bees we still have.
Native Plants for Bees
- Aster Aster
- Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia
- Caltrop Kallstroemia
- Creosote bush Larrea
- Currant Ribes
- Elder Sambucus
- Goldenrod Solidago
- Huckleberry Vaccinium
- Joe-pye weed Eupatorium
- Lupine Lupinus
- Oregon grape Berberis
- Penstemon Penstemon
- Purple coneflower Echinacea
- Rabbit-brush Chrysothamnus
- Rhododendron Rhododendron
- Sage Salvia
- Scorpion-weed Phacelia
- Snowberry Symphoricarpos
- Stonecrop Sedum
- Sunflower Helianthus
- Wild buckwheat Eriogonum
- Wild-lilac Ceanothus
- Willow Salix
Garden Plants Bees Like
- Basil Ocimum
- Cotoneaster Cotoneaster
- English lavender Lavandula
- Giant hyssop Agastache
- Globe thistle Echinops
- Hyssop Hyssopus
- Marjoram Origanum
- Rosemary Rosmarinus
- Wallflower Erysimum
- Zinnia Zinnia