The award for the super-pollinators of the garden goes to…native bees!
While honey bees have their role in creating super delicious honey for our breakfasts, native bees are responsible for helping our flowers and food thrive in the garden. Native bees in your area, just like other pollinators, provide an extremely important service in your ecosystem.
Bees are almost everywhere, occurring on every continent on planet Earth, except Antarctica. Worldwide, there are nearly 20,000 known species, and they all do the same thing: help our plants! Wherever there are insect-pollinated flowering plants, forests, farms, cities, wildlands, or gardens, there are bees.
Keep reading below to learn more about the role of these superheroes in any garden and how to attract them to your outdoor space!
Why Attract Native Bees?
- 1 Why Attract Native Bees?
- 2 General Tips to Making Your Garden Bee-Friendly
- 3 Plants That Attract Bees
- 4 In Conclusion
Short answer: they are the heroes of pollination!
Native bees add more than a soothing buzzing sound that reminds you it is summertime to your garden. They are essential because they are some of the most important pollinators that can help your garden thrive and produce healthy crops.
Simply put, pollination happens when pollen is taken from one flower and transferred to another of the same species, where it can fertilize it and starts the processes involved in fruit and seed production. Some plants can pollinate on their own. Yet, most plants require the help of pollinators, be it insects, birds, bats, or others.
This is exactly what bees do. When you see a bee visiting your plants and taking some pollen on its fuzzy body, only to move it to another plant, that’s when it transfers the pollen and does its job as a pollinator. Good pollination of your plants results in large, healthy fruits that have viable seeds. On the flip side, poor pollination results in deformed fruits that often drop off even before reaching maturity. That’s why you need to attract bees to your outdoor space if you care about your plants’ health and well-being.
Types of native bees and what they pollinate
There are several different types of native bees that provide pollination for gardens and outdoor spaces. Why is it important to know the types of bees you should attract to your garden? Because some plants require a specific kind of bees for proper pollination. For example, tomatoes need Bumblebees for effective pollination. Another example is that apples are properly pollinated only by Mason bees.
So, let’s see what types of native bees you should attract to your garden:
Bumblebees – Bumblebees are the largest of all native bees, and they also tend to travel the farthest to find food sources. They are active since spring settles in through fall. Bumblebees can pollinate a wide variety of plants, but they are the most efficient pollinators for legumes. They are the only native bees that are social.
Mason bees – These native bees are also called “orchard bees” because they often travel to fruit orchards for food. They have a black or metallic blue or green colour, and they have a bristly appearance. They are the type of bees that typically accept man-made nesting blocks to keep their eggs.
Mining bees – Also known as “chimney bees,” they are smaller than honey bees and feature a stout, furry body. They are often confused with bumblebees as they also have a black and yellow body. Mining bees are typically friendly, and they don’t sting or bite. They are particularly important for flower and fruit trees’ pollination.
Squash bees – Squash bees have a small, black and yellow body too. They pollinate all flowers, but they are known to be very efficient pollinators for crops of zucchini, butternut squashes, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Male bees sometimes take naps inside the blossoms of plants hoping they will encounter a female bee. Squash bees start appearing in early summer.
Sweat bees – This type of bees occurs worldwide. Sweat bees got their name of “sweat bees” because of the fact that they are attracted to perspiration. If disturbed or attacked, they sting, but their sting is minor. They are well-known for properly pollinating strawberries, blueberries, and a wide range of flowers.
General Tips to Making Your Garden Bee-Friendly
Now you know what types of bees you need to attract to your outdoor space and why. But, you’re likely wondering how to do it. Bees, like all pollinators, are in search of a few things: food, water, and shelter. So, like all pollinators, they’ll come to gardens that provide them with these essential things to survive.
To make your garden more inviting for these native pollinators:
Choose to plant native plants
We get that growing exotic plants in your garden will make your outdoor area look cool. Yet, bees might not appreciate your skills in growing plants that aren’t local. Experts have found that native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic ones.
Native plants are simply well-adapted to the growing conditions in your area, which means they will be thriving, offering bees the “food” sources they need to survive. It’s best to check what native plants from your area are more attractive to bees and plant them in your garden.
Provide “food” sources from early spring to late fall
In terms of “food,” bees are looking for two things: pollen and nectar. While the nectar is loaded with sugars, providing bees with energy, pollen provides them with enough proteins and fats.
Now, food is an essential need for bees, just like it is for any other insect, and they need it all the time. Different types of native bees are active at different times of the year. That is why it is essential to create diverse plantings that include a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through late fall. In other words, choose various plants that can provide these pollinators with pollen and nectar at different times of the spring-fall period.
Choose Colorful flowers
Maybe you didn’t know, but bees have colour vision which helps them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. So, if there’s an insect that would really admire the beautiful colours in your garden, that would be bees. Bees are the most attracted to bright colours like blue, purple, and yellow flowers.
Different shapes of flowers are also appreciated by native bees. Other types of bees prefer to get their food from different kinds of flowers depending on their tongue length. For example, long-tongued bees are most attracted to plants in the mint family like mint, salvia, or lavender. Or, another example is that long-tongued bumblebees are mostly attracted to flowers that feature hidden nectar spurs. One example of such a plant is the Snapdragon plant.
Flat or shallow blooms are attractive to a wide range of bee types that have short tongues. Daisies, zinnias, tea tree, Eucalypt, or asters feature flat blooms that many bees will visit for nectar and pollen.
Choose plants that can be used for nest creation
Besides looking for nectar and pollen, native bees also visit different gardens to collect materials which they then use to build their nests. For example, Leafcutter Bees cut small circular or oval-shaped pieces of soft leaves to use for the construction of nest cells for their young. Rose Bushes, Beddleja, Bauhinia, Desmodium, and Wisteria are some of the plants that bees collect nesting materials from.
In addition to plants with soft leaves, some bees also need to collect resin for their nests. What you could do, if possible, is to collect resin from stingless beehives and put it in your garden to attract resin bees.
Plant where bees like to hang out
If they were to choose the location of their food sources, bees would choose sunny spots over shade. So, try to plant your flowers and crops in the sunniest areas of your garden. This will attract bees to “eat” from your plants.
Another thing to know is that bees need shelter from strong winds. Their small bodies and wings can’t really fly in strong winds. So, if you live in an area that gets frequent strong winds, plant your flowers and crops in areas protected from them.
Provide fresh water
There’s an incorrect myth saying that bees don’t need water. However, like all animals out there, bees do need a dependable source of water, besides food sources. They not only drink the water but also use it for other purposes such as to cool the hive on hot days or to dissolve crystallized honey in winter and dilute honey that has become too thick and viscous.
The easiest way to add a water source for bees in your garden is to add a watering station, whether that means filing a bucket or pail with water and leaving it in your outdoor space on hot days.
People usually assume that all bees live in hives with hundreds of others of their kind. However, many types of native bees are actually solitary wanderers. For those bees who live and travel alone, you need to provide a safe nesting space.
The simplest way to provide shelter to visiting bees in your garden is to add some backyard bee houses or wood nesting bee houses.
Avoid using chemicals in your garden
Most pesticides available on the market aren’t exactly selective when it comes to the insects they kill. While you may be using them to get rid of pests and other harmful insects in your outdoor space, pesticides may also kill off beneficial bugs like bees.
If you really must use a pesticide for a pest infestation, at least try to choose the least toxic one you can find and follow the label instructions to ensure that you’re not harming other insects more than you should. However, the best way to get rid of harmful pests is to use organic and friendly methods that don’t affect other bugs from the ecosystem existing in your garden.
Plants That Attract Bees
As mentioned above, a big part of making your garden bee-friendly and encouraging these pollinators to help your plants thrive is to create diverse planting in your outdoor space. This means that you should select plants of different shapes and colours, attract all types of native bees that have different blooming times, and provide nectar and pollen sources to these pollinators from early spring through late fall.
These flowers, vegetables, herbs, and fruits are the most attractive to bees:
Annual flowers: A multitude of annuals that you can grow in pots or garden beds are attractive to bees, including Cosmos, Zinnias, Petunias, Sunflowers, Annual Daisies, Pansies, and Bachelor’s Button.
Perennial plants: There are also plenty of perennial plants that bees love to visit, including Rosemary, Lavender, Catmint, Banksias, Raspberries and blueberries, Red flowering gum, Bee Balm, and Aster.
Vegetables: If you want to grow your own crops but want to count on bees to do the pollination job, choose to plant vegetables like beans, cucumber, peas, and summer and winter squash.
Fruits: There’s no better feeling for a gardener than eating fresh fruits right from your garden. But, if you want the help of bees for your fruits to thrive, choose to plant apple, blueberry, melon, raspberry and strawberry, tomatoes, peaches, cherries, and apricots.
Herbs: Bees also love to visit certain herbs for nectar and pollen, including Wild Marjoram plant, Mint, Fennel, Borage, Rosemary, Sage, Basil, Coriander, and Hyssop.
There’s no reason to be scared of bees and not want them around in your outdoor space, no matter how intimidating their buzzing sound may seem. On the contrary, you should be happy that bees choose to hang out in your garden because this means that your plants and crops will thrive thanks to these superhero pollinators.
It’s not that difficult to attract native bees into your garden. As long as you provide these pollinators with the essentials, such as nectar and pollen sources, water, and shelter, they will be more than happy to spend more time in your outdoor space.
Is your garden frequently visited by native bees? Share your experience in the comments below!