The news has been buzzing lately about the decline of our bee populations, and the dramatic consequences their loss could have globally.
Bees are invaluable pollinators when it comes to the crops that feed human appetites. In fact, 70 out the top 100 food crops are pollinated by bees. Although honey bees are typically what one thinks of when referring to bees, they’re actually a non-native European species. Here in Colorado however, we have nearly 900 species of native bees – many of which are far better pollinators than the honey bees.
The blue mason bee, which is native to nearly all of North America, can pollinate an entire acre of fruit trees with a mere 250 bees. If honey bees tried to pollinate the same acreage, they would need one complete colony (around 30,000-60,000 bees).
Squash bees are the most effective pollinator for squash flowers and are the only flowers these bees will visit. For those of us who grow tomatoes and peppers in our gardens, bumble bees should be a welcomed visitor. These gentle giants are the only bee species that frequently visit flowers – helping to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Below are simple steps we all can take in order to help support and protect our native bees in our own backyards.
- One of the easiest and most beautiful ways to help pollinators is by planting a variety of flowers, which are a good food source for bees. Choose flowers that are bright white, yellow or blue, with an open shape, allowing plenty of space for bees to land.
- Some suggestions include: Thyme, Sedum, Ice Plant , Butterfly Weed, Dahlia, Blanket Flower, Veronica, Day lily, Oriental lily, Delphinium, Clematis, Honeysuckle, Wisteria, Gladiola, Hibiscus, Mint, Coneflower, Bee Balm, Hyssop, Lavender, Coreopsis, Russian Sage, Astilbe, Coral Bells, Yarrow, Goldenrod, Anemone, Maximillian Sunflower, Rose, Butterfly Bush, Mock Orange
- Nearly all of our native bee species are solitary, meaning they don’t build and support a large colony. Each female bee is a queen to her self and will raise a brood of young given the right environment. These solitary queens nest in soil tunnels or in soft rotted wood – often taking over old mouse nests or beetle and ant tunnels in dead logs.
They’ll pack these tunnels with food they’ve gathered, along with their eggs, which hatch, grow and mature into adult bees within the tunnel. We can help provide habitat for these bees in our own yards by leaving areas of bare, undisturbed soil for ground nesting species, or by hanging up a bundle of bamboo or a block of wood with 1/16”-1/4” holes drilled into it.
- Learning to recognize the signs that native bees are living in your yard will help you enjoy and protect them. Many native bees, which are active during the summer months, are known as leaf-cutter bees. These busy little girls line their nests with pieces of leaves cut from the plant. During the months of June and July it’s very common to see ½” circles cut from the edge of a rose or redbud leaf.
Many times home owners assume a pest is terrorizing their plants, when all that’s taken place is the next generation of bees are being produced. The limited damage to our plants will not harm them overall, and allowing the bees to take a small portion of the plant helps ensure their young will be around in the coming year.
For more information on what you can do to help protect our native bees visit: