Bees are among the most efficient and effective pollinators for orchards. Fruit-tree blossoms are precisely the kind of flower that many bees prefer: shallow, single-petal, full of nectar and easy to access. In fact, chances are you already have at least a few native bees checking out the blossoms in your orchard, even if you haven’t actually seen a significant number of them. If you’d like to encourage higher numbers of native and Honey bees to industriously work your orchard, follow these tips to ensure that your fruit crop is the best it can possibly be.
1. Plant Bee-Friendly Flowers
While fruit blossoms are highly attractive to bees in their own right, it’s always helpful to have extra sources of nectar around. Bees—both domesticated Honey bees and wild native bees, such as bumblebees, mining bees and mason bees—will be more likely to visit your orchard if they can be certain of finding a diverse selection of flowers to choose from.
Bees tend to be particularly attracted to flowers that are yellow, blue, purple or white, such as asters, lilac, clover, sunflowers and bee balm (a favorite with hummingbirds, too). Many types of bees also enjoy vegetable blossoms, with squash and pumpkin flowers being big attractions. Fragrant herbs, such as rosemary, sage and coriander, are also good choices.
When making your companion plant selections, opt for native plants whenever possible. Natives tend to have higher quantities of nectar and pollen, which make them particularly desirable to natives bees. You’ll also want to keep in mind that different flowers bloom at different times of the year, so aim for a selection of flowers that will bloom successively during the spring and summer months and will provide continual food sources for the bees. The Xerces Society, an organization that advocates bee conservation organization, suggests planting flowers in larger clumps in order to make them more noticeable and appealing to bees.
2. Establish Nesting Sites
Although domesticated Honey bees are perfectly happy to reside in man-made wooden hives, the majority of native bees are ground nesters, while approximately one-third are wood nesters. The names are fairly self-explanatory: ground nesters make their homes in holes in the ground, while wood nesters live in holes in—yep, you guessed it!—wood.
Ground nesting bees require bare slopes or banks for their nests, and they particularly appreciate a sunny location. You can provide a suitable natural habitat for ground-nesting bees by leaving bare areas of soil in your orchard.
Wood nesters, on the other hand, need logs, stumps, fence posts or dead trees to make their homes. Encourage wood nesters by leaving a brush pile somewhere in or near your orchard. If you’d like to try something more specialized, drill holes of a few different sizes (to accommodate varying bee species) into a fence post or a block of wood, then leave your newly created nesting sites near your orchard. To specifically attract the native mason (orchard) bee, make the holes 5/16-inch in diameter, about 4 to 6 inches deep.
You can also purchase prefabricated bee habitats that are suitable for native bees.
3. Provide a Water Source
If you have a birdbath, you might notice bees trying to get a drink from it and failing miserably. The truth is, a water source like this is too deep for bees, and many drown when trying to drink. Bees need a shallow container placed at ground level with islands to walk on, which can be as simple as a few rocks placed above water around the edge of the container.
4. Skip the Pesticides
Pesticides are specifically intended to keep insects off your plants, and that includes bees. According to the USDA’s National Agroforestry Center, insecticides have a wide range of toxicities and can cause death to bees and their larvae. By avoiding the use of pesticides or chemicals in your orchard, you’ll provide an organic environment better suited to nurturing a population of native or Honey bees—and encourage these important pollinators to frequent your orchard now and in the future.