Feeding Bees & Other Pollinators in the Garden
As a landscape company that specializes in garden maintenance, we’ve met our fair share of bees and other pollinators. But in recent years there seem to be fewer and fewer bees out and about – and it’s not just our crews noticing. All around the world, people are seeing fewer bees (or non at all) as widespread diseases, chemical use, and habitat loss take their toll, giving rise to the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
The Pollinator Movement
One of the biggest issues currently facing bees and other pollinators is the rapid loss of habitat and foraging ground. Like humans, bees need a diverse diet of proteins, carbohydrates, and micronutrients to meet their nutritional needs and support the hive. They get this by collecting pollen (protein) and nectar (carbs and micronutrients) from flowering plants throughout the growing season. Unfortunately, our reliance on monoculture farming practices and preference for a limited number of ornamental plants in our landscapes has dramatically decreased the available food supply and dietary diversity for pollinators around the country.
The good news is, people are sitting up and taking notice of the bee’s plight and the response is downright inspiring. Here are three of our favorite initiatives aimed at promoting bee health and foraging in the USA.
UC Davis – Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven – In 2009 the University of California, Davis created a unique outdoor garden designed to be a pesticide-free foraging station for nearby bee populations. Open to the public year-round, this safe haven is a fantastic place for both kids and adults of learn all about bees and the plants that support them.
Bumble Bee Watch – The Bumble Bee Watch is a citizen science project created and supported by a collaborative network of universities, museums, and conservation organizations all across America. The goal of the project is to locate remnant populations of rare and endangered bee species while learning more about these incredible insects. The best part is that anyone can participate! Simply snap a picture of the bees hanging out in your backyard and upload the image to the Bumble Bee Watch website for identification.
The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MPGC) – Perhaps the best known of bee conservation initiatives, the MPGC is a nationwide call to action that encourages everyone, from homeowners to apartment dwellers, to create a space that invites bees and other pollinators back into their garden or landscape. Their ultimate goal is to empower communities to create a network of gardens that provide much needed foraging and habitat for all pollinators.
How Homeowners Can Help
With the right information, anyone and everyone can play an important role in conserving the bees. By adding a variety of flowering plants to landscapes and gardens, individuals can create pockets of foraging habitat for bees and other pollinators. If every homeowner installs at least a few pollinator-attracting plants on their properties, the collective results would be a widespread and diverse foraging network.
Why Variety Matters
Variety is said to be the spice of life, but when it comes to creating foraging habitat for local pollinators, variety becomes more than mere seasoning.
Bees collect pollen and nectar (protein and carbs) throughout the growing season, supporting day to day hive activities and storing up food supplies for the long winter months. However flowering plants typically bloom for limited periods of time and, once pollinated, produce significantly less nectar. By using a diverse mix of flowering bulbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees throughout the landscape, homeowners can create a food rich habitat to support pollinator foraging year-round.
As an added benefit, gardens and landscapes that utilize a high diversity of plantings are far less likely to be wiped out by pests or diseases. We often recommend that our clients utilize the 30-20-10 rule when renovating their landscapes for that very reason.
Natives vs. Ornamentals
In recent years garden centers and conservation groups throughout the US have launched extensive campaigns that encourage gardeners to plant native species. It’s a worthy ambition, but we believe our customers and neighbors are best served when attractive natives are blended with non-invasive ornamental landscape plants.
Native plants have evolved to thrive in their unique regional environments, often out performing their ornamental counterparts in times of environmental stress. Additionally, local pollinator species typically co-evolve with local native plants, meaning they’re often one of the best sources of nutrients for native pollinator species. By using native plants in their gardens and landscapes homeowners can often reduce their outdoor water and maintenance needs while increasing the number of pollinators and other beneficial insects.
The downside is that many native plants, especially here in the Midwest, tend to be aggressive spreaders with unkempt, weedy appearances. We love them, but homeowner associations often have reservations about their extensive use. Another consideration for homeowners is that native plants are often a prime source of food for butterfly larvae and other insects. There may be situations where homeowners don’t want a lot of insects taking up residence too close to the home or vegetable garden.
By blending natives with non-invasive ornamentals, gardeners can achieve an attractive, well balanced garden that enhances the landscape’s aesthetic while still inviting and promoting important pollinator species.
Our Personal Favorites
Here at Tehandón Landscapes and Trees, we’ve been getting up close and personal with our client’s gardens for more than 20 years, and we’ve made some observations about which plants the bees seem to love in our area. The table below lists a few of our favorite plants – ones that we’ve personally observed bees coming back to week after week all season long.
Locating Plants for Pollinators
With nurseries and garden centers everywhere working hard to spread awareness and promote pollinator preferred plants, finding natives and other flowering plants to install in your garden or landscape is easy. Simply check with your local garden center staff for plants that will perform well in your area. For best results, plant a variety of flowering shrubs, perennials, and annuals to provide a mix of nutrients. Choose plants that will bloom for prolonged periods or create a mixture of plants that bloom at different times of the year to provide continuous feeding.
For anyone looking to learn more about bees, pollinator gardens, or colony collapse disorder, we recommend stopping by the following sites. Their quality information and easy-to-use interfaces make them some of our favorite go-to resources.
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation Pollinator-Friendly Plants Lists
Voice of America – Plant Diversity a Boon for Declining Bees