If you want native bees and butterflies to visit your yard, the first thing you need to do is reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides. Instead of spraying chemicals, find other ways to control weeds and insect pests in your garden and yard. Scientists have shown that native bee populations drop by around 50 percent where insecticides have been sprayed. Bumblebees are paralyzed by neonicotinoids – a class of widely used insecticides that act on the nervous system of insects – at levels as low as 12 parts per billion.
Provide as diverse, natural landscape as you can. Are there sections of your property that you can let go a bit wild for the summer and mow once a year? Think about planting native shrubs and trees – they not only enhance the habitat for bees but can add value to your landscaping. Native bees, it turns out, like to forage close to home. While honeybees readily fly two miles to collect nectar and pollen, wild bees rarely fly over 1/2 mile.
Bees depend on nectar for food throughout the entire summer. So think about planting things that bloom over the entire season. Check out the list of flowers bees love below.
Bees also need a source of water. They use water to cool their hives and dilute the honey they feed to their larvae. On extremely hot days, bees might spend more time carrying water back to the hive than foraging for pollen and nectar. Birdbaths work, but make sure the water is shallow, as bees can drown. You can also put a rock or a floating bit of wood in deeper water to provide a place for thirsty bees to land on.
Wild bees need nesting sites. Most of them are solitary, and about a third of them build their nests in wood. They tunnel into the soft pithy centers of some twigs (raspberry canes and sumac) or use tunnels left behind by wood-boring beetle larvae. The other 70 percent are ground-nesters, digging narrow tunnels down to small chambers of brood cells. Ground-nesting bees need direct access to the soil surface and prefer sloped or well-drained sites. Bumblebees, too, build their colonies underground, moving into abandoned rodent burrows.
Encouraging wood-nesting bees can be as simple as retaining dead or dying trees and branches in the hedgerows and encouraging the growth of elderberry, blackberries and raspberries, sumac and dogwood. To attract ground-nesters, leave a small area untilled for a year or actively clear some of the vegetation from a gently sloping or flat area.
Flowers Bees Love
Red maple, chives, Shadbush/ serviceberry, asters, borage, bee plant (Cleome), cosmos, purple coneflower, Joe-pye weed, sunflowers, hyssop, apple blossoms, mints, bergamot/ bee balm (Monarda), basil, oregano, poppies, plum and cherry blossoms, roses, willows, sage, goldenrod, dandelion, thyme, red clover, blueberries, mullein, zinnias.
You can learn more about bee-friendly gardening here.