What can you do to help the bees? We'll share how to help save the bees and create a bee friendly yard for honey bees, bumble bees and native bees without spending a ton of money.
Whether it's honey bees, bumblebees, mason bees or other native bees, we need our bees. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and varroa mites continue to take a toll on honeybees. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) states that as of August 2018: Varroa mites were the number one stressor for operations with five or more colonies during all quarters of 2017. There was a 15 percent increase in CCD in Jan-March 2018 compared to the same quarter of 2017.
Hives suffer from mites, pesticides, and limited and contaminated food sources. Rudolf Steiner predicted a bee crisis back in 1923 due to the practice of artificial requeening. Our bees are struggling.
Let's get started with the small things you can do to help save the bees and make them welcome in your yard.
#1 – Flowers for Bees – Which Flowers are Best for a Bee Friendly Yard?
Bees like flowers that make good landing platforms or tubular flowers with nectar at the base. A variety of flowers will provide food for more of the season.
Think daises, dandelions or snapdragons; not modern hybrids such as double petaled impatiens or massive ruffled roses. Many of the new hybrids are bred for showy color displays, but have very little pollen and nectar. (Some are even bred specifically to shed less pollen for less mess.)
Bees like plants with flower spikes, since the bees can move from flower to flower very quickly. Look for flowers like sage, catnip and goldenrod for your bee friendly garden.
Bees are attracted to blue and yellow flowers the most. They can't see red! White Dutch clover and other flowering groundcovers provide a grass alternative that can create a bee oasis in the smallest yard.
Whenever possible, try to incorporate native plants into your landscape. They are already adapted to your area, and many perennial species bloom very early or late in the season, before or after annual flowers are at their prime.
#2 – Use Trees and Shrubs to Help Provide Pollen and Nectar Throughout the Season
Trees and shrubs can provide a flush of pollen and nectar early in the season before other plants have a chance to emerge. They should be a part of almost every yard. Grass lawns offer no shelter and no food to pollinators. In contrast, trees and shrubs offer both food and shelter, creating a microclimate and safe haven of relatively undisturbed habitat.
You want to have a mix of flowering plants to provide food throughout the year. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension offers some suggestions for bee friendly plants:
Early-season Bee Nectar Plants
- Trees: maples, apples, shadbush, willows, cherries, plums, native honeysuckles
- Perennials: blueberries, bugloss, lungwort, pigsqueak, crocus, viola
Mid-season Bee Nectar Plants
- Shrubs: spirea, rose, summersweet, rosebay rhododendron
- Perennials: milkweed, purple coneflower, blazingstar, mint, oregano, bee balm
- Annuals: single-flowered marigold, borage, tickseed, blanketflower
Late season Bee Nectar Plants
- Perennials: aster, bottle gentian, phlox, yellow and purple coneflowers, goldenrod
- Annuals: cosmos, snapdragon
#3 – Have Shallow Water Available for the Bees
Just like everything else, bees need water to survive. If the water container is too deep, they may drown. Place some small stones or floating some pieces of wood in your bird bath, or purchase a bird bath with a very gently sloping outside edge. Bees can't swim, so they have to be able to access water without treading water.
Bees, butterflies and other insects love fountains and moving water – but mosquitoes don't, because they need still water to lay their eggs. There are even tiny solar fountains that you can float right in your birdbath for a simple option to create moving water.
#4 – Avoid Pesticides in Your Bee Friendly Yard
Even “organic” pesticides can be toxic to bees, so please be very, very careful about what you spray in your garden. A report by the Xerces Society indicated that neonicotinoids are of particular concern. Specifically:
- Several of these insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees, bumblebees and other beneficial insects.
- Bees and butterflies eat pollen, which may contain neonicotinoid residues. The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations.
- Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.
- Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year.
- Products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops.
- There is no direct link demonstrated between neonicotinoids and the honey bee syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD.
The Center for Food Safety has compiled a list of home and garden products containing neonicotinoids.
#5 – Provide Nesting Sites for Bees
This tip is primarily for the bumblebees and other native bees that don't live in bee hives. (Of course, sometimes honey bees do form wild hives, but most of us don't necessarily have the space to accommodate a large wild hive.)
Bumblebees are ground or box nesters, depending on the species. (Old mouse nests are a favorite.) They need a natural, less disturbed area to nest. Try to leave space around yard or garden edges.
Many native bees, such as mason bees, are solitary nesters. They prefer nest blocks or hollow plant stems for shelter. Don't be too quick to clear out all garden debris! A bundle of sunflower stalks tucked into a corner can make a great nest site.
Kim from EcoBeneficial shares:
70% of our native bee species nest in the ground and must have access to a sunny location with bare soil or very little vegetation. The other 30% of our native bees make their nests in old mouse tunnels, beetle tunnels, holes in trees, pithy plant stems or twigs, and in similar spots.
To help native bees, leave an area of bare soil in a sunny location, keep perennials up over winter as bee nesting cavities, and leave some less tidy areas with old logs and dead trees, cut back to a safe height in highly trafficked areas.
What are you doing to help the bees?
Which bee friendly plants do well in your area? How have you made your yard and garden more bee friendly? I'd love to hear from you!
If you don't have a spot to make bees welcome, you can support responsible apiaries by buying honey, beeswax and other bee products from trusted sources. (Sometimes cheap honey is more corn syrup than honey.) If you have a local apiary you love, feel free to recommend them in the comments.
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You may also enjoy:
- Beekeeping for Beginners – Natural Backyard Beekeeping
- 7 Reasons You Need Homestead Bees
- Start Beekeeping – Iron Oak Farm's First Hive
- Honey as Medicine – Prevent Infection, Kill Bacteria, Promote Healing
- 5 Uses for Honey Everyone Should Know
Originally published in 2015, updated in 2019.