Often, a gardener’s first thought when planting their garden is how they are going to keep insects away from their plants. While that line of thought may hold true for garden pests like cutworms and slugs, bees actually perform an invaluable service for the environment and humanity alike when they buzz into our gardens.
Bees play a vital role in keeping balance between the environment and other species. For us, bees act as our mediators to the environment, pollinating and regulating our food supply. Essentially, our agricultural system depends on bees—without pollination, it would collapse. Their pollination also sustains other species’ food chains, species that would also be threatened if bees were extinct.
Bees support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants, which serve as food and shelter for other wildlife. They also support our planet’s complex and interconnected ecosystems that have allowed many different species to coexist in harmony. As a result, a dramatic decline in bees will result in severe environmental imbalances.
Bees have become increasingly threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and chemical pesticides. In the past decade, the bee population in the U.S. has steadily plummeted by 30% each year, and bee populations around the world are following suit. What does the loss of bees mean not only for the U.S. but on a global scale?
Despite their small size, bees carry a heavy load of duty. One of the best ways you can help them thrive besides supporting organic farmers who don’t use chemicals is to cultivate a bee-friendly outdoor space, in which bees can gather and grow. Though this may seem too small to make a difference, 80% of agricultural pollination has been found to be done by wild populations of bees. Let’s take a look at the best ways to attract bees to your garden,
Cut Back on the Chemicals: Avoid Pesticides
This one is pretty straightforward considering that pesticides have been leading to the bee population’s decline. Instead use agricultural techniques such as crop rotation, row covers, and nontoxic controls like handpicking pests from the garden. Though they are not toxic, organic pesticides can still harm bees. If you are still set on using a pesticide, whether chemical or organic, make sure to not spray it directly on open blossoms or when pollinators are present.
Grow Pollen and Nectar-Rich Plants
Bees are immediately attracted to plants with both nectar and pollen. Why? Nectar and pollen serve as a bee’s food source. Nectar is essentially sugary water that gives bees much of their energy while pollen provides protein as well as food for larvae. Bees also transfer this pollen from plant to plant, performing the vital act of pollination. Lavender, catmint, and rosemary are nectar-rich flowers and herbs while wallflowers, dahlias, and marigolds are pollen-rich flowers.
If you’re worried you will have to plant rare, exotic flowers in your garden to attract bees, fear not. Research has shown that native plants are four times more likely to attract your area’s native bee population than exotic flowers. Native plants are already well-adapted to your landscape’s growing conditions and usually thrive with minimal attention.
Add Some Color
A bee’s vision is actually quite good. In fact, bees have the ability to see color much faster than humans do. This color vision helps them find flowers as well as the nectar and pollen they might offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow. You may consider planting lilacs, lavender, violets, sunflowers, daisies, hydrangeas, and more.
Give Bees Something to Sip On
Yes, really. Have you ever felt tired and lethargic after not drinking water for a period of time? Well, bees experience dehydration the exact same way! Place some shallow dishes of water around your garden or yard so they can hydrate as needed. Or if you already have a water feature like a fountain in your yard, simply place some pebbles or rocks in the water so bees can safely perch while sipping.
Go Easy on the Weeding
Though we typically view them as an eyesore in our landscape, weeds can actually serve environmental purpose. For example, lawn clovers and dandelions will naturally attract bees by providing both nectar and pollen for them to collect. If you can’t commit to letting your entire yard go wild, consider leaving a portion of it undisturbed for the sole purpose of attracting bees.
Build a Bee Hotel
Bee hotels are places for solitary bees to make their nests and lay their eggs in the small holes of the tunnels. Unlike honeybees, most native bees are solitary and do not nest in colonies. In fact, 30% of native bees in the U.S. are solitary bees. Without the help of a colony, the solitary bee must build her own nest and supply her larvae with food. A bee hotel supports these solitary bees, providing them with a safe home to bring the next generation of bees into the world.
How do you help save the bees?
Let us know in the comments!