The bee is the most efficient pollinator in the insect world. His furry little body carries an electrostatic charge that allows pollen to adhere to tiny baskets on his legs as he moves from flower to flower. While honeybees and bumblebees are the most familiar to us, there are four thousand species of bees in the United States.
Our future is entwined with the survival of these insects. The world’s food supply is dependent on them. The European honeybee plays a critical role in the pollination of our crops. Also known for the honey and beeswax they produce, honeybee populations have dropped more than fifty percent since the 1940s. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and widespread pesticide use are two main causes of this decline.
The bumblebee is one of the most important wild bee pollinators. They feed on nectar alone and pollinate everything in their path. Bumblebee populations, like those of the honeybee, have plummeted due to loss of wildflower habitat and widespread use of pesticides.
As home gardeners, one of the most important things we can do is create habitat for these amazing creatures. From spring through fall, bees forage on a wide diversity of flowers – all shapes and colors. They are four times more likely to forage on native species than plants introduced to your region. Native plants are also well adapted to their region and require less maintenance, a bonus for the home gardener.
Choose a diversity of open-pollinated flowers that bloom at different times throughout the season. Plant in groupings, intermingled with heirloom herbs and perennials. Try asters, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, coreopsis, phlox, purple coneflower, and salvia. Mix in a healthy dose of flowering annuals such as morning glory, Mexican Sunflower, and zinnias. In addition, native flowering shrubs and trees provide a smorgasbord for bees. Try holly, yellow poplar, sourwood, or black cherry trees. Sweetshrub, sweet pepperbush, flame azaleas, and rhododendrons are particularly attractive to bees. For a complete listing of bee friendly plants native to your area, contact your local cooperative extension service.