Anyone who’s been watching or listening to the news the last five years has probably heard ominous reports that both exotic bees (honey bees) and native bee populations (such as mason bees, bumblebees and sweat bees) are on the decline in North America. Both native and exotic bees are important pollinators, but native bees are often more efficient at pollinating crops that have their origins in North America, such as tomatoes, squash, eggplant or pumpkins. While some of the reasons for the ongoing honeybee population decline are still uncertain, there are clear cut steps that individual homeowners and gardeners can implement to help protect and encourage native bee populations.
1. Provide Pollen And Nectar Sources
Bees need pollen and nectar from the moment they emerge all the way through the end of the season. This means gardeners need to provide long-lasting flower coverage for each of the three seasons from early spring to late fall.
When considering the exact type of flowers to plant, look for blooming plants native to your region. Native plants are good for all bees but are especially crucial for specialist bees that need certain plant species for their survival. Plant your flowering plants in large clusters rather than in numerous isolated beds spread throughout your yard. Plantings should feature plants with varying heights, different flower shapes and varied colors to attract and support bee population.
2. Eliminate Pesticides
Limiting or completely eliminating pesticide applications in your landscape and garden is an important second step to help your local bees. Native bees and honeybees are both susceptible to many of the pesticides commonly used around the home. Even if labels suggest a product may be safe for honeybees, it does not mean that same protection extends to the hundreds of native bee species.
If the complete elimination of pesticides is impractical for your needs, consider applying pesticides during dusk when bees are less active, spot-treat problem issues rather that employing broad chemical applications, and if at all possible skip treating any plants that are currently in bloom—especially avoiding flowers.
For more information on protecting native bees and pollinators in your area, visit the Pollinator Conservation Resource Center run by The Xerces Society. This website offers a range of tips on creating bee habitats in your landscape and also has a great list of bee-friendly native flowering plants broken down by region.