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There are two basic types of insects that good gardeners will want in their yard: pollinating insects and insects that prey on pests. This article will focus on how to encourage bees to make your garden their home, or at least their home away from home.
According to the USDA, “over 80% of the world’s flowering plants” require help pollinating. Pollination occurs when the pollen from an anther is transferred to the stigma of a flower. Since plants can’t always transfer pollen themselves, they require an outside agent (a pollinator) to help spread the pollen in order to reproduce.
Bees are the most common pollinator of blooms and are also the most efficient pollinators, according to the USDA. But don’t think that honey bees are your only option; bumblebees, mining bees, and mason bees are also great pollinators.
Bumblebees are larger than standard honey bees and are active in the garden earlier in the year than standard honey bees.
Unlike bumblebees, mining bees have little to no hair. Mining bees frequently nest in the ground, so make sure to have a spot in your yard that is not too manicured. Nests look like holes drilled into the ground.
According to Gardener’s Supply, there are more than 4,000 species of Mason bees in the US. Unlike honey bees, Mason bees live solitary and work independently, which makes them less susceptible to disease. They are often referred to as "Carpenter" bees, because they burrow holes in wood to make nests. Industrious workers, just a few mason bees will pollinate an entire tree, and they are even active in cool or rainy weather.
Carpenter bees are much larger than honey bees.
Here are some tips for how to make your garden more attractive to various bees:
Even bees can get overheated while working, so make sure to provide them with bushy ground cover so they can rest up. Dry grass, twigs, or a small brush pile (something that looks natural) is also a great way to encourage bees to nest in your garden.
Bird baths are not only attractive, but they attract birds and bees to your yard as well. Even insects need some water from time to time. So install a bird bath, set shallow bowls of water around the yard, let the area in your yard be slightly muddy, or install a water fountain so that bees can hydrate easily.
Hummingbirds aren’t the only visitor in gardens that appreciate vibrant colors. In particular, bees appreciate blue, purple, and yellow flowering plants, so be sure to integrate them into your garden landscape. Unlike hummingbirds, however, bees can’t see the color red.
Not only will flowering fruits or veggies provide you with food for your family, but they also provide much-needed pollen for bees! Consider planting bloom-bearing plants such as tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries, or apples.
Instead of using traditional pesticides that may kill beneficial bees as well as harmful bugs, consider using natural options instead. Consider introducing ladybugs in the garden or planting nasturtium near vegetable gardens, which repels predatory insects but doesn’t affect bumblebees.
Bees appreciate simple, flat-shaped blooms instead of complicated flowers. Plant single-petal flowers such as daisies, black-eyed Susans, or Queen Anne’s lace, which bees find easy to feed on. It is difficult for bees to reach the innermost part of a double flower.
While you might appreciate exotic plants, bees tend to prefer plants that are native to the region, as bees are more familiar with them.
Perennials are also a good option, as you only need to integrate them in your yard once, and they will return year after year. Popular perennials include poppies, lilies, bee balm, and butterfly weed.
If all your plants bloom at the same time of the year bees will die off or move to another area. Consider planting things with staggered bloom times, so beneficial insects will hang around your garden longer.
Encourage carpenter bees to nest in your yard by installing (or building) a carpenter bee house.
Although this article focused on how to lure bees to your garden, there are several other pollinators commonly appreciated in the garden, such as butterflies, flies, moths, and birds. According to the USDA, there are about 200,000 different species of animals considered pollinators.
Offer a variety of plants at different heights, a variety of trees and shrubs, and a variety of bloom colors to encourage a variety of pollinators to visit your garden.
Gardening Know How: How to Attract Bumble Bees