Gardening for honeybees: How to make your lawn, garden and landscape more beneficial to bees
Whilst this is a USA based article the vast majority of its content applies to most of the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year. OK so praying mantis’s may not be indigenous to the UK, but you get the idea!
As temperatures go up this spring and honey bees emerge from winter hives, the first thing they’ll look for is food in the form of early spring flowers.
“They like dandelions, and they really like clover,” said Robbin Ewald, a beekeeper in the Tiffin area. “To have the perfect lawn, you kill their food supply.”
BeekeeperTom – Did you know that a lawn is pretty much a desert for honeybees and many other insect pollinators, there is no food, nothing to forage on, so when you see a huge swathe of perfectly manicured lawn, it may as well be a desert!
The overuse of weed killers is detrimental to not only honey bees, but wild members of the pollinator population as well.
“You really don’t have to have the perfect lawn,” Ewald said. “It’s not what nature was meant to be.”
As a domestic species, Ewald said honey bees and beekeepers must overcome adversity such as viruses, bacteria, mites and other pests.
“All that is really disastrous for bees,” she said. “You have to keep up on your diseases and other bugs that bother them.
“We deal with the downfall of losing our hives over the winter, but not exclusively over winter,” she said.
Ewald said a strong, healthy hive has a better chance of surviving the winter.
“They have so much honey they stored up to eat through the winter,” she said.
But by spring the stores are depleted, and fresh food sources are needed.
As honey bees are waking up, backyard gardeners are gearing up for planting spring flowers.
Choosing flowers beneficial to honey bees and other pollinators is a recommendation of Ewald and many conservation organizations.
“There’s a whole list of particular flowers and bushes and trees that honey bees are drawn to,” Ewald said.
“Bees are considered the most important pollinators because they are uniquely adapted to gather and transport pollen,” said Denise Ellsworth of the Ohio State University Bee Lab. “Bees rely on flowers for food to feed their young, so they actively seek out and visit flowers.”
She said the fuzzy bodies and branched hairs help female bees collect pollen into special structures, such as pollen baskets on the hind legs or long hairs on the thorax or abdomen.
Ellsworth suggests growing flowers of varying shape, size and color, and grouping them in a sunny location.
“Sunny locations help pollinators find and feed on desirable flowers while expending less energy in the search for plants,” she said. “By observing flowers in the garden and taking note of any flower visitors, gardeners can learn which plants are most attractive to pollinators.”
She suggested placing an emphasis on native plants.
“Locally native plants attract native pollinators,” she said. “Native plants offer nectar, pollen and other nutrients in quantities that native pollinators need.”
Planting native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are also important, she said.
A few to start with include trees such as maple, crabapple, linden and serviceberry; shrubs such as ninebark, pussy willow, sumac and viburnum; perennials such as aster, hyssop, milkweed and purple coneflower; annuals such as cosmos, marigold, sunflower and zinnia; and herbs such as basil, borage, catmint, lavender and oregano.
Although often considered weeds, dandelions, milkweed, goldenrod and clover provide good sources of nectar and pollen.
“A water source in a garden helps thirsty pollinators, especially in the heat of summer,” she said.
A shallow bowl or birdbath can provide sufficient water. A few sticks can be placed in the bowl to provide a place for bees and other insects to land and perch, and prevent insect drowning.
“Plant big patches of each plant species for better foraging efficiency,” says the U.S. Forest Service. “Make small piles of branches to attract butterflies and moths. Provide hollow twigs, rotten logs with wood-boring beetle holes and bunchgrasses and leave stumps, old rodent burrows, and fallen plant material for nesting bees.”
The agency also suggests maintaining spaces free of weed cloth and heavy mulch because 70 percent of native bees species nest underground.
The Honey Bee Conservancy suggests replacing all or part of a grassy lawn with flowering plants, which provides food and habitat for bees and other wildlife.
“Native flowers help feed your bees and are uniquely adapted to your region,” the organization’s website says. “Try to use flowers to which local bees are especially adapted. You can also visit the websites of regional botanic gardens and plant nurseries for more info on bee-friendly plants.”
The conservancy says flowers with single tops such as daisies and marigolds are better than double flower tops such as double impatiens.
“Double-headed flowers look showy but produce much less nectar and make it much more difficult for bees to access pollen,” the conservancy says. “Skip the highly hybridized plants, which have been bred not to seed and thus produce very little pollen for bees.”
The conservancy recommends planting flowers to provide blooms all season.
In spring, recommendations include crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula and wild lilac.
Summer blooms can be provided by bee balm, cosmos, echinacea (purple coneflower), snapdragons foxglove and hosta.
And good fall varieties include zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod.
Wild bees need habitat also, the conservancy says.
“Build homes for solitary bees,” it suggests. “Leave a patch of the garden in a sunny spot uncultivated for solitary bees that burrow.”
Other species need surface amenities such as piles of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds or nesting blocks made from untreated wood.
Instead of herbicides and pesticides, the conservancy recommends natural means of pest control.
“Ladybugs (Ladybirds), spiders and praying mantises will naturally keep pest populations in check,” the conservancy says.