Nobody wants nasty, aggressive hornets and yellowjackets in their backyard. But, oh, that friendly soft hum of bees at work in your garden! Zzzzzzzzzzz. Honeybees, bumblebees, and mason bees all bring multiple benefits to your landscaping, and by creating a bee-friendly backyard you’re contributing to their future as well.
We Need Bees
Bees work on the front lines when it comes to sustainable landscaping. Without their tireless pollination efforts, many plants would cease to exist. Bees help pollinate trees and shrubs as well as perennial and annual flowers and groundcovers. So if you want that gorgeous red bud you planted as the centerpiece of your artificial grass lawn to keep putting on a show every spring, you’d better get busy making friends with more bees. Ditto if you plant a veggie garden every year. You get the idea.
Bees Now Need Us, Desperately
We’re losing bees, at an alarming rate. Scientists say there are multiple possible reasons for this, but the trend is clear. Declining bee populations negatively affect agriculture around the world, but the problem also affects general eco-systems. By deliberately providing food, water, and safe habitat for honeybees, bumblebees, and other pollinators, you can help them make a comeback.
Here’s What You Can Do
The most obvious bee-friendly step you can take is planting more bloomers that attract bees. Interestingly, bees cannot see the reds and oranges favored by hummingbirds, but they especially love flowers in shades of blue and yellow. They prefer single flower shapes because it’s hard to get at the nectar and easy to get stuck in flowers with lots of petals. So think “flat” shapes like Echinacea, yarrow, lantana, sunflowers, and zinnias.
Bees also love having lots of flowers close together because it’s more efficient. So consider flowers that bloom in clusters such as lavender, snapdragons, mints, basil, lobelia (tall and short varieties), lupine, etc. You can also group multiple types of flowers together to create a “canvas” for the bees to visit.
Native plants attract native bees, plus they are naturally drought-tolerant – two good reasons to include them in your landscape panoply. Whatever you choose, be sure to select plants that bloom in all seasons because, yes, some bees do feed in winter. You don’t need a big yard to make a difference. Plant bee-friendly varieties in containers, window boxes, or in a vertical garden.
What plant does not impress bees? Natural grass lawn. It’s just a big expanse of nothing from a bee’s point of view. On the other hand, your artificial grass not only looks even prettier than that old grass you had, it is definitely bee-friendly because you’ll never have to spray it with deadly pesticides. So simply by switching to synthetic turf you’ve upped the natural value of your backyard.
Bees Need Water as Well as Nectar
However, as you might imagine, it’s not easy to get a drink when you’re a bee. Your backyard’s traditional style bird bath and your dog’s outdoor water dish are too deep. Bees can’t swim, so with nowhere to safely land, they will drown. That’s true for butterflies and other beneficial insects, too.
There are several ways you can create a bee-friendly water station. You could set out a shallow dish of water with a few rocks for landing places, or add a larger rock or two to your deep bird bath. But bees especially love moving water. You can add a simple “rippling” device to your birdbath, or get a small fountain designed just for bees, butterflies, and – yippee! – hummingbirds.
Bees have to sleep, too. You could take up beekeeping, but introducing an entire hive into your backyard might be a bit extreme. Nonetheless, you can set aside a little space for bees to nest or burrow, if you’re so inclined.
Whatever you do to create a bee-friendly backyard, the result will be a more beautiful home environment for your family and a more sustainable future for our vital bees.