Homeowners can help by hosting these helpful pollinators in their yards by giving them “food” and a place to live. Native bees include bumblebees, mason bees and squash bees, mining bees and sweat bees. They pollinate many crops more completely and efficiently than honey bees. Did you know that tomato plants pollinated by bumblebees will have bigger fruits and pumpkins pollinated by squash bees produce larger pumpkins?
How do you provide them a place to live? That’s pretty easy since 70% of native bees are ground nesters…all they need is a place to tunnel into the ground. The other 30% are wood nesters and need a snag or hollow stem to call home. If you don’t have any natural snags in your yard or nearby, you can drill holes (use multiple sizes, 3/32”-5/16” diameter) on the south sides of fence posts or logs. You can also buy pre-made bee houses with stacked hollow branches (often bamboo).
How do you provide them food? Many of the native bees emerge just as the pollen and nectar from their favorite crops are ready to be gathered. It’s important to have flowers blooming spring through fall, with a diversity of flowers rather than a single type. But plant in groups or masses if possible, not just one plant per type. Gathering the needed pollen, nectar (and sometimes mud) requires endless trips between flowers and the nest, so the closer the flowers are, the less energy the bees need to expend in flight. Native plant species will naturally attract local pollinators, but they are also attracted to vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials, as well as flowering trees and shrubs. There are many published lists for plants that attract native bees, but here are a few:
One last note to all of you who may be concerned about getting stung. Native bees are passive by nature and don’t usually sting unless squashed, pinched, or otherwise provoked. Be inspired to create a bee-utiful garden, and you will reap the benefits and help our native bees at the same time!