We all know how important bees and other pollinators are to the garden and, in the much larger picture, to our food supply. It is estimated that about 90% of flowering plants rely on insects for pollination.
Gardeners certainly do their part, planting a wide assortment of flowering plants. However in cold areas, like here in the northeast, there aren’t many available for bees early in the season. If there aren’t any flowers to feed the bees when they are waking up in the spring, they might not stick around for summer. Bad news for us.
So what flowers can we provide, as the season begins.
One of the easiest options is dandelions. When you see those yellow dots spreading across your lawn, you can bet bees won’t be far behind. Hold off removing them until they’re ready to go to seed.
Fruits trees and other spring flowering trees and shrubs are another good option. Think of apples, cherries, highbush blueberry, raspberries and ornamental such as crab apples, pussy willow and ninebark.
And early native plants and wildflowers, like golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and even grape hyacinth (Muscari) would round out the list.
Of course, they need nectar rich flowers all season. Bees expend a lot of energy. To be really successful attracting bees to your yard, try and provide for them year round.
What Bees Need
Flowers with small flowers in clusters – Multi-flowered plants can accommodate multiple bees at one time. However different types of bees have different tongues and they all have their favorite flower shapes, so do plant a variety, especially flowers that are tubular and/or shallow and flat, like yarrow or this butterfly weed (Asclepias).
Native plants – Bees tend to favor plants that are native to their area.
A wide area to forage – Ideally we should provide large patches of flowers within easy flight distance from one another. And large clumps of a single plant are better than a mix dotted with individual plants.
Bees favorite flower colors include: bright white, yellow and blue
Bees also need:
Year Round Shelter – They need somewhere to hide out during bad weather. Layering trees, shrubs, and perennials should provide that. These layers also allow them to duck out of sight of predators.
Open Ground – Some species of bees look for open ground with a cover of leaf letter or a low growing plant or ground cover, for nesting. Ground bees ask even less, just a bit of uncovered soil.
Clean Water – Bees like to drink and bathe, too. They’ll happily take advantage of ponds, water gardens, and bird baths if there is a shallow area where they can get in without drowning.
Winter cover – Most bees and wasps hibernate in old nests during winter. In some, only the queen survives and she’ll have to start the colony all over again in the spring. Honey bees remain active, kind of, all winter. They stop flying when the temperature drops down into the 50s (F) and form a kind of huddle around the queen generating heat to keep the queen and worker bees alive.
All types of bees are struggling for survival these days and there are many reasons for that – some we haven’t even discerned yet. But one thing that definitely contributes to their demise is something that is absurdly easy to correct. Don’t use pesticides. Isn’t it nice when something on the list saves you effort?
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