5 Steps to Grow a Bee Friendly Garden
by Jerry Hilburn on May 20, 2021
In the last decade, bees' reputations have quickly gone from a potentially painful pest, to a cute little creature that needs to be protected at all costs. This change in perception is mostly caused by the sudden and widespread drop in the honeybee population.
Collapse Disorder, or “CCD” as it’s commonly referred to in the beekeeping community, is mostly to blame. CCD occurs when a bee colony’s population mysteriously disappears, leaving the queen to fend for herself. The phenomenon has baffled researchers for years, but the causes are starting to be revealed. So how can we save the bees?
Fist off, let’s clarify – which bees should we be protecting?
Save the *native* bees
Your typical “honeybee” originates in Europe and is a social creature which creates hives and produces honey. Native bees on the other hand, are mostly solitary and build their own nests.
Since CCD became a problem, many gardeners have put beehives on their own property in an attempt to grow the dwindling bee population. What most do not know, unfortunately, is that a honeybee colony can quickly overtake an area, and leave the native bees with nowhere to go, and no land to pollinate. This is a problem, because native bees are instrumental to the health and success of our local ecosystems (and gardens).
So, now we know the answer to saving the bees is not to become recreational beekeepers. Instead, as gardeners, we have other ways to protect our ever-important bees. Here are five steps to build a native bee friendly garden.
Step 1 - Eliminate pesticides
Pesticides, and more specifically, neonicotinoids, are believed to be directly related to the deaths of both native and honeybees. In other words, nix the inorganic chemicals. Instead of spraying weed killer, use mulch to suppress growth; instead of spraying garden pests, make your garden a safe space for their natural predators like birds; and instead of using harsh inorganic fertilizers, stick to more natural options like Dr Earth.
Eliminating pesticides also means that you should be mindful where you buy your plants. If you have the choice, buy from a local organic grower. Here in Southern California, we recommend Waterwise Botanicals for beautiful native and neonicotinoid-free plants. If you don’t have something comparable in your area, ask your local nursery where they get their plants and if pesticides are used.
Step 2 - Fill your garden with native flowering plants
Another cause of the dwindling bee population is that farmers are utilizing every inch of their land to grow produce, with little groundcover remaining. That means no habitat for the bees, and thus, no one around to pollinate those crops.
Native bees are basically little fuzzy hipsters: these picky pollinators want something local. In your own garden, supplement your fruit and veggies with native flowering plants and ground cover. The bees will appreciate it, and these plants will naturally do better in your climate and require less watering.
Step 3 - Lay off the mulch (only slightly)
Unlike honeybees, native bees make their own nests to lay eggs and oftentimes, that nest is in your dirt. So even though we’re pro-much, we recommend keeping a few feet of your garden uncovered to make digging easy. You can also mulch lightly with a soft organic material such as leaves. If you don’t have enough space to give some up for the bees, you can buy a “bee house” or “bee condo” made of small tubes that are the perfect rest spot for your local pollinators.
Step 4 - Flower through the seasons
When you’re planting your native plants, it’s important to plan for the seasons. Bees don’t just disappear in Fall, so fill your yard and garden with plants that bloom in a seasonal cycle.
In winter, when it’s harder to grow things, bees will look for a place to hibernate. Offering them a safe space for them in your garden will make winter all the more bearable. We recommend planting your natives in big patches so that they’re obvious to the bees. When one big patch goes dormant, the next should be flowering in a large enough patch that the bees won’t miss it.
Step 5 - Give the bees a drink of water
Have you ever come across a lethargic bee and been told to give it a bit of sugar water? Hold that thought. Sugar can actually be harmful to bees if they get too much. Just plain water, on the other hand, is vital to their survival. Unfortunately for the little guys, it’s extremely easy to drown in a small amount of water when you’re half an inch long. The best solution is to put out a shallow plate with just a small bit of water, and replenish it daily when you’re watering your plants.
With these five steps you can have a pollinator friendly garden in no time. The bees will be grateful, and reward you with well pollinated produce!