Close up of a yellow on a goldenrod flower

 

Scientific news has been abuzz with lately. Excuse the pun, but in a country where 75 percent of crops require , are of great importance to the food chain. While other insects, birds, bats, and mammals can assist in pollination, bees are the most important pollinator.

When most people think about bees, honeybees come to mind. Farmers have relied on honeybees for for generations. Hives of the European honeybee (Apis mellifera) have declined 59 percent over the past 60 years. Native bees are also in decline, both domestically and worldwide. About half of native bee species disappeared from their historic ranges in the last 100 years. Bumblebee species have suffered a 96 percent decline in the last 20 years. Recently, the Rusty-patched bumblebee became the first bee in the continental U.S. to be declared endangered.

As the supply of honeybees has decreased, the cost of using them in commercial farming has increased. Commercial agriculture practices aren’t conducive to nesting and feeding sites for native bees but farmers are turning toward providing habitat to encourage native bees to assist with pollination of crops.

Bees are threatened by poor nutrition, parasites, pathogens, and pesticides. While gardeners may not be able to directly eradicate the pathogens and parasites affecting bees, they can assist with nutrition and avoid the use of pesticides.

Small purple asters wildflowers

Bees derive their nutrition from the nectar and pollen of flowers. As they buzz into and out of flowers in the garden, they transmit pollen from the anthers (male structures) to the stigma (female structures) of the same plant species. This is the essential step in fertilizing flowers, which creates seed as well as the fruit surrounding seed. Seeds ensure that the species produce a new generation, surviving from one season to the next. While bees are enjoying lunch they are also making certain that they will have a food source in subsequent years!

Home gardeners can add a few plants to their gardens to bring on the bees, or they can follow the recommendations below to create a pollinator garden friendly to many insects and butterflies vital to the survival of plants.

Vivid orange butterfly weed Flowers

• Maintain habitat for bees. Avoid heavy chemical use on lawns, allow some weeds to pop up in your lawn, or better yet leave some wild areas on your property.

• Provide nesting sites for bees. Native bees nest in the open ground, hollow stems of plants and in piles of brush and rock. Reduce the amount of mulch in your garden and avoid cutting every plant back to the ground in the fall and spring. If your garden looks a little messy over the winter or in spring, explain that you are doing it for the bees.

• Bees drink water and appreciate shallow puddles, bird baths or shallow spots at the edge of a pond.

• Plant a diverse selection of native trees, shrubs, and perennials which bloom from early spring to late fall, ensuring that the bees will come to your garden and be a presence the entire growing season.

• If you are a vegetable gardener, be sure to include flowers in your garden to encourage bees. They add a pretty touch to the garden, but also increase crop yields.

• Choose old-fashioned annuals and perennials that are single form over heavily hybridized double cultivars.

• Include flowers of varying shapes and colors. Plant in colorful drifts.

A partial list of perennials, listed in order of bloom time, that will attract native bees to your garden include:

• Zizea aureus (golden Alexander)

• Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower)

• Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)

• Pycnanthemum species (mountain mint)

• Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s root)

• Asclepias species (milkweed/butterfly weed)

• Solidago species (goldenrod)

• Eutrochium purpureum (Joe-pye weed)

• Symphiotrichum species (native asters)

Annuals such as cosmos, zinnias, portulaca, sunflowers, heliotrope, pentas, and salvia provide long-season flowers for pollinators.

 

Curated from – Post-Gazette

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