Not all flowers are stocked with the resources that bees need to thrive. Plant for pollinators with these simple tips.

By Megan Hughes

The populations of more than 4,000 species of native beesplus the non-native honey beeare declining rapidly, and the main culprits include the use of pesticides, climate change, and the spread of parasites. Essential to our ecosystem and our bountiful dinner tables, bees need your help. The good news is, you can bolster the bee population in your area by making your landscape a bee-friendly oasis. Pollinator patches and bee gardens are common, but an entire landscape designed with a friendly nod to bees makes a much greater impact. Added bonus: they're attractive additions to your landscaping!

Plant Bee-Friendly Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs are oft-overlooked landscape plants for pollinators. Offering a wide range of bloom periods and boasting hundreds of flowers per square foot, woody plants offer more pollen and nectar than their flower counterparts. Start the growing season with flowering crabapple and Eastern redbud, which both bloom in early spring. These small trees are excellent for suburban landscapes. Linden, bottlebrush buckeye, and golden raintree bloom for several weeks in late spring and summer.

Plant Spring to Fall

Bees are actively foraging in the landscape from early spring until late fall. Plant a combination of flowers, trees, and shrubs that bloom and provide nectar in each season. Start with early spring bloomers like dogwood and dwarf fothergilla, then follow with summer stars such as clethra and Hydrangea paniculata. Finish the season with fall bloomers—we like chaste tree and seven-son flower. Not only will the pollinators appreciate a spring-to-fall approach to planting, but you're sure to find joy in the space that is colored with flowers for six months or more.

Flower Form Matters

Plant breeders have spent decades selecting flowers with double petals and busy, petal-packed flowerheads. While these types of flowers are eye-catching to humans, they often offer little in the way of nectar and pollen for bees. The extra petals have often displaced the essential pollinator nutrient sites, rendering the flower useless to bees.

Look for plants with open flowers, like prairie rose and Hydrangea paniculata, which attract many bees because of their easy accessibility to nectar and pollen. Heirloom and native plants often have open, bee-friendly flowers.

Go Chemical-Free

Instead of calling on pesticides and herbicides to control unwanted bugs and weeds, opt for organic or mechanical means of control. Apply a thick layer of mulch to suppress weeds. Hand-pull persistent species that pop up. When possible, tolerate a bug presence. Frequently, destructive insects move on before they cause much harm to a plant. Hand-pick highly offensive pests, dropping them into a bucket of soapy water.

Image courtesy of Costco.
Image courtesy of Costco.

Use Bee Houses

Becoming a beekeeper may seem overwhelming: Keeping honey bees can be a messy and stressful job. If you want to ease in, start with Mason bee houses (like this one from Costco). Mason bees don't live in a hive and don’t produce honey—which means they're less aggressive than honey bees and rarely sting. Instead, they spend their lives raising their young in small nesting holes. The kicker? They pollinate up to 100 times more effectively than their honey bee cousins.

Buy it: KIBAGA Bee House, $24.97, Amazon

To attract these amazing insects, all you need to do is to set out a house that gives them a place to raise their young. Once they leave the bee house in the fall, harvest the cocoons from reeds, bamboo, or reusable wood trays. (Most bee houses you can buy have between 30 and 100 nesting tubes.) Make sure your house is clean and parasite-free, and you can repeat the same process each year.

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