The bee population in the U.S. is in peril. According to the Pollinator Partnership, the U.S. has lost more than half of its managed honeybee colonies over the past decade.
Although the reasons for this sharp decline are not fully understood, scientists believe contributing factors include increased exposure to pesticides, parasites, diseases, habitat loss, and a reduction of plant diversity.
A significantly reduced bee population is a problem for all of us because our food supply depends on bees. In fact, more than 150 crops grown in this country rely on pollinators. On the list of pollinator-dependent crops are apples, blueberries, almonds, melons, citrus fruits, pears, pumpkins, and plums. Pollinators also help plants that feed livestock and plants that produce fiber, such as cotton.
Fortunately, there are many steps you as a gardener can take to help increase the food supply for bees and improve their habitat. Most of these are not only easy to do, but they will bring benefits to your garden as well.
1. Avoid Pesticides
Although pesticides can get rid of unwanted pests in a hurry, they also can harm helpful organisms. Try natural means of preventing pests, such as the use of ladybugs and herbs, that do not kill bees.
2. Offer Shelter and Shade
Like other living things, bees are affected by too much sun and heat. Adding leafy plants, such as coleus, to your garden can offer bees a place to cool off and rest. Piles of grass cuttings or a decomposing log can also provide a safe harbor for bees.
3. Provide Water
Yes, bees get thirsty too. Try placing shallow dishes of water in and around your garden so bees can rehydrate. Better yet, consider adding a fountain, water garden, or birdbath they can use to get a quick drink.
4. Plant Bee-friendly Plants
Bee balm (Monarda) is a hardy and attractive perennial that attracts bees. Other plants and flowers that bees like include:
- Agastache (anise hyssop)
- Asclepias (butterfly weed)
- Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea)
- Blackberry/raspberry (Rubus)
- California lilac (Ceanothus)
- Echinacea (coneflower)
- English daisy (Bellis Perennia)
- Geranium (cranesbill)
- Heather (Calluna)
- Lavender (Lavendula)
- Lily of the valley (Peieris)
- Mint (Mentha)
- Oregano (Origanum Vulgare)
- Papaver (poppies)
- Purple toadflax (Linaria Purpurea)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
- Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
- Thyme (Thymus)
- White clover (Trifolium Repens)
- Yellow mustard (Brassica)
5. Include Plenty of Color
Did you know that bees are attracted to color? They especially like blue, purple and yellow plants and flowers, so be sure to add plants in those shades to your garden.
6. Use Flowering Fruits and Vegetables
You can attract bees to your veggie garden as well as your flower garden by planting flowering vegetables, such as zucchini, and flowering fruits, such as strawberries.
7. Plant Single Petal Flowers
Bees like to keep things simple. It is difficult for them to reach the inner flower parts of double flowers, such as peonies. They have the best success feeding from flat and single petal flowers like black-eyed Susan’s or Queen Ann’s Lace.
8. Go Native
Scientists believe there is a correlation between declining bee populations and declining native plants. It only makes sense that bees are most familiar with native plants in your area. Research plants and wildflowers that are native to your area and add some to your landscape.
9. Stagger Blooming Times
Give bees places to feed all spring and summer long by planting flowers that bloom at different times throughout the growing season. Another way to attract bees is to plant shrubs, plants, and flowers of various heights with a wide range of flower sizes and shapes.
10. Attract Then With Perennials
Get more bang with your buck by planting bee-friendly perennials in your garden. In addition to bee balm, try coneflower, poppies, butterfly weed and lilies. Here’s a bee-friendly seed mix to consider.
11. Build a Bee Box
You can give bees a warm and safe home by constructing a simple bee box on your property. Here are instructions and here is a helpful video:
12. Treat Bees With Care
Many people confuse bees with annoying wasps that come after your food and drink on a picnic. Here is an interesting Smithsonian Channel video that discusses the difference between the species.
Most of the time, bees are content to mind their own business and are, in fact, quite docile. Teach your kids to respect bees and to leave them alone as they buzz around your garden.
Another way you can help the dwindling bee population is by raising some of your own. With a honeybee hive, you can enjoy your own home-grown honey and beeswax and possibly have an additional source of income as well.
Here are some resources to help you decide if beekeeping is right for you and your family.
- Beekeeping 101: Why Raise Honeybees?
- How to Raise Honeybees: A Beginner’s Guide
- How to Raise Backyard Honey Bees
- How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey