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You may have read about the declining honey bee population in the U.S. According to the non-profit organization Beeinformed, American beekeepers lost nearly 40 percent of their managed honey bee colonies in the year between April 2021 and April 2022. Although the previous year’s loss was more significant (50.8 percent), the statistics are still alarming.
Bees and other pollinators, including wasps, butterflies, moths, and others, play a critical role in our food production system. More than 100 American-grown food crops rely on pollinators.
Pollinators are also essential to healthy ecosystems for a diverse wildlife population, clean air, and stable soils.
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Here are some other statistics that support the value of bees to our world:
- Bees pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants on the planet.
- One bee colony can pollinate some 300 million flowers a day.
- Bees pollinate 70 of the list of top human food crops.
- One out of every three bites of food we eat is derived from plants pollinated by bees.
- Almonds are 100 percent dependent on bee pollination.
- Avocados, apples, and cherries are 90% or more dependent upon bee pollination.
- Cucumbers, apples, and berries are other food crops that rely on pollination.
Scientists believe that bee populations are dying from increased pesticide use. For example, as much as one-third of the nation’s 77-million-acre soybean industry is linked to pesticides that kill bees.
However, there is some good news. You and your home garden can play a role in helping boost the bee population. Here are 13 ways to attract pollinators to your garden. And you can help your garden thrive at the same time.
1. Avoid using pesticides.
Most pesticides kill beneficial bugs along with the ones invading your plants. Research natural ways to deter pests and how having a thriving bee population can help keep some pests in control. For example, some pollinators also feed on pesky aphids. (And if you must use a pesticide, try the one with the least toxicity.)
2. Use native plants.
It makes sense that native bees are more attracted to native plants. Native plants are also already adapted to your local climate, making them easier to maintain.
3. Provide color.
Bees and other pollinators are attracted to colorful blooms. Flower colors that bees tend to like are blue, purple, white, and yellow. Hummingbirds visit red blooms first. Butterflies prefer reds and purples.
4. Try clusters of flowers.
When garden space allows, plant flowers in groups that measure four feet or more across. Pollinators tend to gather in these groupings more readily than around individual plants. Experts theorize it’s because bees are near-sighted, and big clumps are easier for them to find.
5. Plan for sequenced blooming times.
To keep bees coming back for more and to attract different types of bees, plan your garden for continuous flowering throughout spring, summer, and fall.
6. Consider different flower shapes.
Did you know there are 4,000 different species of bees in North America? Each species is a bit different in terms of its size, tongue length, and habits.
Having flowering plants of different shapes and sizes helps appeal to a wide variety of bee species. Here’s more. Butterflies tend to like flat-topped flowers, and hummingbirds prefer funnel and tube-shaped flowers.
7. Let the sun shine.
Bees prefer sunny spots over shady ones in the morning. However, they’ll head to shady areas when the afternoon sun is too hot. By planting a mix of plants that prefer sun and shade, you’ll help keep pollinators happy.
8. Keep the wind off their back.
Consider sunny spots that offer bees and other pollinators some shelter from strong winds. A hedge, shrub, or a compost pile can do the trick. These additions to your garden also give weary pollinators a safe place to rest.
9. Offer a water source.
Like all living things, pollinators need to drink water in order to survive. By adding a bird bath, fountain, or small pond to your landscape, you can give them a place to have a quick drink.
10. Appeal to their sense of smell.
Pollinators are attracted to fragrant plants and flowers. Consider adding aromatic herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, and lavender to your garden.
11. Embrace a clover lawn.
Clover in your yard will attract helpful pollinators. Clover also can give you an easy-care green lawn that doesn’t require fertilizers.
12. Keep a weedy area weedy.
Let grass and weeds grow unhindered in one protected spot on your property. Tall grass and weeds offer protection, shade, and a food source for many pollinators
13. Choose pollinator-friendly flowers.
Here is a list of flowers and herbs to consider planting in your garden to attract bees and other pollinators. (It’s not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started.)
- Black-eyed Susan
- Butterfly weed
- English lavender
- Giant hyssop
- Globe thistle
- Joe-Pye weed
- Oregon grape
- Purple coneflower
- Torch lily
- Trumpet vine
- Wild buckwheat
Would you like to learn more about how to attract bees and other pollinators to your garden? Here are some resources to check out.
- Know Your Pollinators by Tim Harris
- Attracting Native Pollinators by The Xerces Society
- Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife by David Mizejewski
- The Urban Wildlife Gardener by Emma Hardy
- The Pollinator Victory Garden by Kim Eierman
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