You’ve probably heard about the terrible news concerning the honeybee but native bees, especially our Bumble Bees are in serious decline too. Research has shown that native or “wild” bees are important pollinators of natural areas, gardens and agricultural crops, and also need our protection. Here are a few ways to give our little known native bees a chance. Plus many of these suggestions will help the honeybee and other pollinators!
HABITAT CREATION & PROTECTION (both natural habitats & in our landscapes): Habitat has the most impact on our bees, as well as other wildlife. Some native bees are specialist and depend specific native plants or flower shapes. Most native bees are generalists and get pollen and nectar from many types of plants which bloom from early spring (when some queens emerge) through late fall (when many bees are still around). Weeds such as violets and dandelions are good for queen bees and other early pollinators as explained in my notebook “Why cant weed be friends.” A diversity of species supports both long and short tongued bees, plus reduces the need for pesticides since diversity leads to less pests and diseases. According to the Xerces Society, native plants attract more native bees than non-native plants because they have co-evolved together. Besides food (pollen and nectar) , native bees also need shelter and nesting places. Here are some suggestions for creating nesting places and shelter for our native bees:
NESTING BOXES (BEE CONDOS): You can help native solitary bees by creating small, properly maintained artificial nesting boxes. Most native bees are solitary bees, and many nest in snags, dead branches, or hollow plant parts, which a nesting box simulates. You may have seen these large, elaborate artificial nesting boxes on the Internet, but some entomologist believe concentrating so many bees in one area can increase the chance for pests and disease. Make sense, doesn’t it? You can creating a nesting box using any piece of untreated wood such as a fence post or large branch, and drill holes (1/8″ to 3/8″ diameter) at depths 3″-5″ to attract various types of native solitary bees. Remember: Like bird houses, bee nesting boxes require maintenance to prevent the spread of disease & parasites. Here are some detailed Instructions from the Lifecycle Project or Jack Speer’s Nesting Box Instructions.
In general, natural habitat for bees and nests will decrease the chance of pest and disease:
LEAVE PLANTS WITH HOLLOW STEMS AROUND: Leave a few hollow dead plants stems around instead of burning or cutting everything back when doing spring clean-up. See my blog article “Spring Cleanup – not so fast” for more information.
KEEP DEAD LOGS, TREES, BRANCHES AND LEAVES AROUND : The remaining native bees nest in the ground or in cavities of fallen logs or trees, including our native bumblebees. They are also used for overwintering.
LEAVE AREAS OF BARE SOIL: Avoid mulching or tilling all areas of your garden and avoid using landscape fabric/plastic since studies show that ground nesting bees need undisturbed, bare areas of soil. They especially like loamy, south facing soil, according to Doug Tallamy, although I’ve seen ground nesting bees in my clay soils in other areas.
PESTICIDE, FUNGICIDE, HERBICIDE REDUCTION / ELIMINATION – many studies have proven that pesticides have contributed to the decline of bees of both native and non-native. Pesticides include weed killers (including lawn), insecticides, fungicides and rodent poisons. Neonicotinoids are especially harmful, since they are absorbed by the entire plant, including pollen and nectar
AVOID PLANTING NON-NATIVE LITTLE LEAF LINDEN TREES (Tillia cordata): Althought little is known about this, some non-native Linden species may contain natural toxins. Why take a chance? Bumble Bee Death / Linden Trees.
Most folks should not fear our native bees (exceptions include those severely allergic). Both nesting types (ground and solitary bees) are not aggressive (unless really provoked), so they rarely sting. I can testify to this since I accidentally stuck a pitchfork into a bumblebee nest in my compost bin and was only chased away but never stung. Late summer yellow jackets wasps or the European paper wasps are the cause of most stings. Wasps are not bees. BTW: Wasps do eat mosquitos and other insects, so they serve a purpose! Learn more about our native bees, their benefits and how you can help protect them using these resources:
- Introduction to Native Bees ( Excellent online document )
- Native Bees Awareness on Facebook
- You can help scientists collect helpful data and photos of bees in Illinois, plus learn a whole lot about bees in the process, by becoming a beespotter
- Pollinator Conservation Handbook – Excellent book from The Xerces Society and The Bee Works
- Conserving Bumbleebess : Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declinging Pollinators
- Wisconsin’s Natural Resource Magazine: What the buzz about bees?
- The Nature Conservancy’s article Wild Pollinators Are Critical in Keeping are Picnic Baskets Full.
Please see my blog article on Dead Wood and Rocks for other ways you can help create food, shelter and nest sites for bees and other wildlife