Attracting Native Bees to your Yard and Garden
A Conservation Guide
Bees, like all living things, are attracted to places that can provide them with the basic life necessities such as water, food, shelter and mating partners. If you want to help indigenous north shore bees, provide them with the opportunity to find water, food and mating partners in your yard or garden, and then leave this space undisturbed to allow the bees the chance to build up a sustainable population in that area. Basic bee needs can be provided for in many different ways and even very small gardens can become successful nesting sites for the native bees. The creation of a bee-friendly yard or garden habitat can be as simple as introducing some lasting food sources and nesting materials into an area that will remain undisturbed throughout the growing season. Each of our many native bee species has differing needs but generally all bees require a secure nest site in a sunny location, constant water source, and various types of forage plants that can supply them with both the nectars (sugars) they need for energy and the pollen (proteins) that they need for rearing their offspring.
10 ways to help create a bee-friendly garden
1) – Learn more about the life cycles and needs of bees indigenous to your area (see native bees)!
2) – Do not use pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or artificial chemical fertilizers in your yard or garden as the lasting effects of these will be the most damaging to the bees’ ability to rear their young. These chemical treatments often prove fatal to local bee populations due to toxins that the bees will accidentally collect and feed to their offspring when foraging on the available pollen sources and water supply.
3) – Use a variety of different plant types that will bloom throughout the growing season as this will help to provide a constant source of food for the bees and other pollinators in your garden.
4) – Garden with native plants since they can be the one of the greatest attractors of bees to your garden. Native bee and native plant species have an established partnership for mutual survival that has lasted for millions of years. Exotic and hybrid type plants, being bred for color or shape and size, will often have little or no value as a source of pollen and nectar for our native pollinators. Native and heritage plant types can be used effectively in your yard and garden to provide both an attractive and a sustainable habitat for our local bees.
5) – Limit the use of mulch materials, weed barriers, and artificial ground covering systems as most species of native bees require access to undisturbed, sandy soils to create their nesting tunnels.
6) – Compost and prune your hollow and pithy stemmed plants less regularly or only every second or third year. This will help to provide stem and tube nesting bees an opportunity to complete their annual reproductive life cycles without having their nest sites accidentally destroyed and composted.
7) – Don’t mow so often. Leaving some leaf litter and stems in your garden until spring will benefit all the hidden pollinators by giving them the time they need to complete their annual life cycles. Bees need weeds too!
8) – Introduce lasting natural features to your garden that can provide nesting material or nesting sites for the smaller native bees. Keep old stumps or logs around, since some of our small native bee species nest in the tunnels they find created by other wood-boring insects. Provide a supply of wet mud or clay, since numerous native bees need this resource to build sealed chambers inside their nesting tunnels. These chambers protect the bees’ eggs and developing offspring through the winter months until the following spring.
9) – Create artificial nesting sites in your garden by providing small bundles of hollow or pithy stemmed plants for bees to inhabit. The stems should be from 8 to 12 inches long with diameters from 1/8 to 5/16 inches wide. Artificial nest boxes also provide suitable nesting opportunities, as many species of native bees will readily take up residence in man-made nest boxes and establish annual populations in your yard. Mason bee boxes, which are quite effective at housing many other species of native bees, are available in many local shops. Orchard bees, leaf-cutting bees, resin bees, and carding bees have all been found to reside in artificial nest boxes in the north shore area.
10) – Wait for the bees each spring before you start your yearly planting and gardening activities! Almost all of our indigenous bees remain in their winter hibernation cycle until there is a good supply of forage (plants in bloom) before emerging to begin their mating and nesting cycles. Native bees generally begin their annual pollination activities in the early to mid spring (April/May) when daytime temperatures start to stay around 14*C, with some our more hardy and robust bumble bee types making an even earlier appearance.