Bring Bees to Your Garden

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts 

By Dan Songster, 2014 January

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. Our question for this Newsletter is “How do you encourage bees in your garden?”  

Celia Kutcher-“My garden recreates a patch of the coastal sage -scrub that would have been onsite aboriginally. Its wide variety of CSS species attracts a wide variety of bees and other nectar-seekers as flowering progresses throughout the seasons—if the plants are there, bees will come.”

Ron Vanderhoff-“A few strategies:

  1. I leave some areas un-mulched,
  2. use no insecticides,
  3. garden organically,
  4. and offer a wide variety of native flowering plants.

I also have a couple of home-made “bee houses” made by cutting several lengths of 5/8″ pieces of bamboo, lashing them into a bundle and then hanging the bundles from a couple of overhangs. Mason bees seem to like these.”

Rob Moore-“Other than utilizing bee magnets such as Salvia and Eriogonum spp., I’m always mindful of plant placement. Specifically, I make a realistic judgment of mature plant size–width in this case–and plant accordingly. Beneficial pollinators such as our native bees require bare soil to create nest cells. Designing open space within the garden will create habitat for them.”

Laura Camp-“Buckwheats and Seaside Daisy. The most spectacular bee plant I had in my garden was a Baja plant, Mariola, Solanum hindsianum, which blooms nine months out of the year. The carpenter bees loved that plant, and I loved watching those big black bees defy gravity.”

Bob Deshotels-“Although there were very few bees two years ago, since then I have planted many native plants that attract humming birds, including Salvias; they also attract bees. Their favorite plant is honeysuckle, which blooms almost all year. I use no pesticides in the yard. The honeysuckles are protected against insects by a small flock of bushtits that visit the yard every day or so, feeding on ants and aphids.”

Mike Evans-“Plant for flowers. Plant diversity. Don’t use chemicals. Supply water; make a seep, bog, pond, puddle. And plant for flowers.”

Bob Hogan-“It was not intentional, but by putting natives (including TOL Desert Mix) in my front yard I have attracted some Meta Green Bees. They create tiny, volcano like hills in the ground.”

Charles Wright-“You will always get European honey bees if you have water. I have two fountains: one high and one in the ground. The honeybees prefer the high one because it has a gradual slope and is easy to land and take off from. For native bees have native blooming plants; it’s that simple.”

Thea Gavin-“A recent (and fast-growing) addition to our garden is a Mexican elderberry tree (Sambucus mexicana) that now drapes blooming branches in front of our dining room window. Its creamy platters of tiny flowers are bee magnets!”

Dori Ito-“Native plants in my yard that bees seem to like include the sages, buckwheats, goldenrod, poppies and many other annuals like phacelia tanacetifolia which they especially like. I’m trying to install a bee hotel as habitat for solitary native and especially mason bees but am not really sure if they’d even attract any bees locally. (I’d love to hear from anyone who’s had any success with bees inhabiting them.) I’ve given up my recycled butcher block table to the carpenter bees which have bored homes into it.

Also, I’ve found the website to be very helpful with information and tools to encourage pollinators in our gardens. They have a great app for Android and iPhone users called BeeSmart where entering your zip code will generate detailed lists of native plants specific to area and pollinator (Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, and even bats!)”

Bob Allen-“Simple: have several native flowering plants that flower at different times of year. Salvias flower more often than one might think—our Salvia spathacea flower all year and attract hummingbirds and carpenter bees. Two of our manzanitas have been flowering for over a month, the others will flower next year. Palo verde ‘Desert Museum’ is producing a few flowers but it’s still young. When in peak flower, tons of bees visit it.

Dan Songster-“For one thing I resist the urge to mulch everything and leave bare soil for some of the native bees to create tunnels and live in. I like to provide a wide number of plants that a wide range of bees enjoy—NOT just European honeybees. I also leave old tree stumps and decorative logs in the garden for carpenter bees (and other critters and fungi) to enjoy!”


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