Try these tips to support native pollinators and beneficial species on your homestead this year…
It is common knowledge among eco-conscious inhabitants of our planet these days that important pollinator species are in decline. It’s not just honey bees, either, but a whole range of wild bees (of which there are over 4,000 species in North America), and other native pollinators such as wasps, flies, butterflies, and more. These important creatures help to pollinate all of our food crops, as well as flowers and other plants that we enjoy throughout our environment.
Along with choosing organic and sustainably grown foods, you can help support our important pollinators at home by avoiding the use of chemicals on your homestead, and by growing plants that support beneficial species. Even small gardens and urban homesteads can make a difference by providing safe habitats for these pollinating insects.
Now is a great time to plan out your garden for the new growing season, so here are a few tips for supporting native pollinators on your homestead or in your garden this year:
- Research flowering native plants in your area and find out which ones do well in gardens. Native bees evolved with native plants so they are naturally pre-programmed to want to visit them in search of food (nectar and pollen). Master gardener groups, cooperative extension, and native plant society chapters are great resources for this information and often they provide plant lists for your specific region. Many non-native plants are great bee attractors too, so get out there and start observing to see which are the most popular to your local bees.
- Choose plants that bloom from early spring to late fall and even a bit into winter for more milder climates. Bees are seasonal and come out at different times of the year, so it’s important to have a food source for them blooming all season long. This info should be easy to find as you are researching the native plants of your region
- Plant in large patches. Select one plant species and plant several individuals together forming as large a patch as you can, ideally covering at least 3ft x 3ft. When bees are foraging, they typically stick to one plant type and look for the same one over and over. By planting a large patch of the same plant, you allow the bee to hang out for longer instead of having to search for more of the same flower.
- Select a variety of flower shapes, sizes, and colors for the various types of native bees and other pollinators that may be visiting. Some bees have long tongues and can reach the sugary nectar at the bottom of a long tubular flower, while others prefer to shimmy and dance on top of a composite flower in order to collect as much pollen as possible. By increasing the diversity of flower shapes and colors, you allow for more diversity in the pollinators visiting your garden as well.
- Provide water by putting a few large rocks in your birdbath, or by floating a piece of cork. These are used by bees as a landing spot so they don’t drown in the water. Honey bees need a source of water, while most native bees get enough water from plant nectar. Some bees, like mason bees, might collect water in order for them to make the mud they need for constructing their nests.
- Allow bees to make homes in your garden by leaving some bare soil exposed, or by providing holes for cavity-nesting bees. Most bees nest underground and they need access to bare soil in order to dig their holes, so pull back the mulch in some areas, or leave some out of the way place wild and weedy for them to inhabit. Cavity nesting bees benefit from hollowed-out stems or holes drilled in wood. There is lots of info online on how to build them. Most of these bees are solitary and don’t have a large colony of helpers like honey bees, so even a small space is good enough for them.