Don’t dig up that Dandelion!
Did you know that dandelion flowers are one of the first spring sources of nectar for the bees?
Lately, there has been lots of conversations about the declining bee population and luckily, there are a few things that we can do in our own gardens to help the bees and their fellow pollinators. Pollinators come in a variety of forms. Honey bees may be the most well-known but did you know that there are a number of solitary bees whose main job is to pollinate your garden? These solitary bees are Bumble bees, there are also Leaf Cutter Bees and Mason Bees to name a few. Butterflies and moths also help with pollination too.
So, no matter your gardening style or expertise, you can still help our tiny pollinators by choosing pollinator friendly plants in your yard. Here are a few tips for planting a pollinator friendly garden in our Alberta growing zone.
1. Diversity – a little like your investments; diversity in the garden is better in the long run. How is it better? A diverse variety of plants will attract a wide range of pollinators and keep them coming back for more.
2. Closely planted clusters of 3 or more – give the bees a denser area to collect nectar and pollen.
3. Staggered bloom stages – selecting plants that flower at different times of the season will provide nectar and pollen sources all season long for the bees.
So, now what do I plant!?
Spring blooming plants:
Thrift – A compact perennial with pink blossoms on long stems, it is early to come up in the spring and early to bloom.
Chives – Are easy to grow, winter hardy and great in salads! Chives bloom in late spring and early summer with tall purple/white blossoms; a favourite for the bees.
Lilacs – This iconic spring bloom that fills the air with the sweet scent is attractive to many different pollinators.
Fruit trees & shrubs – Ornamental or fruit bearing trees and shrubs are a beautiful addition to the garden and an early source of nectar for the pollinators. It is wise to select a variety that can be cross pollinated, or you need to plant more than one for pollination.
Summer blooming plants:
Clover – Sweet clover that often shows up in your lawn has large clusters of blossoms that provide an excellent source of nectar for the bees. It can be mowed down, and the blossoms will return a few weeks later.
Alyssum – This is a fast growing annual that the bees love. Tiny clusters of white or purple flowers that grow in a mass giving the bees an abundance of nectar and pollen.
Zinnias – A hardy annual with brightly coloured blossoms that is highly attractive to pollinators.
Rose – Of course this is a favourite of both the gardeners and the pollinators! There are so many different varieties to choose from; select a native variety for the best overwintering success and one that has wide open blossoms giving easy access for the bees.
Sunflowers – These cheerful giants of the garden can provide plenty of nectar and pollen for the bees and as an added bonus winter seeds for the chickadees.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudibeckia) – Is a bright, high contrast flower to attract pollinators late in the summer.
Spirea (bush) – A hardy perennial that will be buzzing with pollinators all through the summer.
Berries – The bees will pollinate, and you get to reap the reward of fresh berries! Raspberries are a favourite with the bees and are very easy to grow. This is a great example of just how much we need the bees.
Herbs – Oregano, thyme, and dill are a just a few of the herbs that will flower and provide nectar and pollen for the bees. As an added bonus you get fresh herbs to cook with!
Tomatoes – Are easy to grow in a pot on the corner of your patio and they will attract pollinators all summer long. And the best part? You get garden fresh tomatoes!
Fall blooming plants; it is still important to provide the pollinators with nectar sources later in the season, especially the honey bees. This is the time of year when they are building up their winter honey and pollen sources.
Sedum – These compact perennials can be late bloomers giving you a lovely show in the late summer and early fall as well an excellent late source of nectar for the bees.
Helenium – With bright yellow and orange blossoms growing in a mass, this is an attractive flower for the bees.
So, we have talked all about how to attract these helpful pollinators, there is one last very important item to talk about. Pesticides and more specifically insecticides. And how these can affect pollinators and other beneficial insects. Insecticides are not selective, meaning they wipe out all insects – even the good ones.
It has been proven that insecticides are one of the causes in the decline of the honey bee and solitary bee population. Some insecticides can cause behavioral changes in bees, such as impairing their ability to forage for nectar and pollen or even find their way back to the hive.
When an insecticide is sprayed on a plant (tree or shrub) it collects on the leaves and blossoms. It is then picked up by the visiting bees and taken back to the hive with the pollen and nectar that they are collecting. This insecticide is then spread through the colony. All this is only if the bee makes it back to the colony, often they will die on route back to the hive. It is a sad story but one that we need to be aware of, because it is caused by something that we can control. If pesticides are so bad for the pollinators, what can I do about the ‘bad pests’?
There are many predatory insects that can help you in the garden. A good example of this is aphids and ladybugs. The aphids arrive and cause all sorts of problems, the ladybugs will soon come along. They are a beneficial, predatory insect, who eat the aphids.
There are other options to help with the bad pests that are not so catastrophic to the pollinators and disruptive to the general ecosystem. My best advice is to do your research before getting out the strong chemicals and if possible, start with a natural application or the least toxic chemical you find.
This all may seem a little bleak, bees dying and the possibility of your garden being over run by bad pests. But really, it’s not all that bad. If we each do our own part and plant a bee friendly garden and get out and enjoy the spring; we will soon have the bees buzzing and the warm sunshine to brighten our days.
Spring has sprung! It’s time to wake up the garden and welcome the birds and bees back.
Want to talk gardening or bees a little more? Connect with the gardeners at Capital!