“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.”
– Elizabeth Lawrence
The sights, sounds, and smells of our garden are part of why so many of us have fallen in love with gardening. A warm, sunny summer day doesn’t seem quite complete without the quiet buzzing of bees busily bumbling from flower to flower. They are amazing to watch as they go from bloom to bloom, slurping nectar and scooping pollen before they lift off and wobble to the next flower like an overloaded plane.
These days, it seems like our gardens are quieter. While many of us got used to the sound of our gardens humming along, the open blossoms these years seem to have fewer bees floating between them. Iowa’s pollinators, especially the bee, are in trouble and it’s not just our gardens that will suffer if we lose them. We have some ways to combat their habitat loss, and population decline from pesticides and disease in your backyard to boost their health and the health of your garden.
Getting a Bee-Friendly Garden:
Bees are an important part of the health of our garden. Without enough to be in every yard, it’s important to entice them to spend their time in ours. The more appealing we make our yard, the more likely it is to be a regular stop for the few bees that are left in our neighbourhood.
Bee-Friendly Planting: Part of bringing more bees to your garden is providing them with their favorite foods. Bees will always prefer local Iowa native plants over fancy hybrids that they don’t recognize. They also like to visit plants that are in clusters instead of single flowers. They love fantastic color as much as we do, so don’t be afraid to put on a show! Plants like lilac, black-eyed susans, echinacea, and sunflowers are among their favorites.
Pictured below: Echinacea
The Right Conditions: Bees will favor yards that offer lots of sunshine, little nooks and crannies to rest, and shallow water where they can get a drink. Consider filling a shallow container with some pebbles and filling it partially with water to create a bee bath that gives them a place to land and quench their thirst.
Leave it Natural: Native plants are a great compromise to have a cultivated garden that is bee-friendly, but having areas that are allowed to grow a little wilder are perfect to give bees the natural habitat, food sources, and shelter that they crave. In a busy urban center, a tiny patch of wild can be a bee oasis.
The friendlier we make our yards to bees, the better our gardens look. Bees pollinate our blooms to help them reproduce, creating more, healthier flowers. Bees are also a crucial step for many of our fruit-bearing garden favorites, so they are a must if you want to enjoy tasty apples or raspberries.
Keeping Bees Alive:
Providing the right food and shelter to attract bees to our gardens is helpful for both us and these adorable pollinators, but we also need to focus on curbing practices that can harm these buzzing beneficial insects. Our local bees are struggling with our use of pesticides, and understanding how these chemicals works can help us prevent hurting our pollinators.
Your entire garden is an ecosystem, complete with lots of complex food chains. When some of our most irritating pests appear, they are usually followed by predators that help us keep their numbers under control. Most pesticides wipe out all insect life – not only will your bees be hurt as the innocent bystanders, but the predators that keep the pests under control will be gone, too. Pesticides might fix a problem for now, but wiping out everything only invites the pests to come back as a bigger problem in the future. In the end, using pesticides and other poisons hurts everything in your garden, including bees, without a lasting benefit to your garden.
To help save your bees, avoid spraying pesticides on anything that is in bloom, if you use them in your garden at all. If you have to use chemicals to solve a garden problem, start with the mildest solution and work upwards in toxicity. Instead of chemicals, consider using safer methods like netting, garden fleece, or mesh barriers to keep pests away, or even using companion plants in the garden that naturally repel pests.
Creating bee-friendly gardens is easy, and we only have benefits to be rewarded with. There are many solutions to the problems that reduce our bee numbers, and many of the ways to attract bees to our yards are not only simple but very aesthetically pleasing. By saving the bees, we not only feel a little better about our impact on the world around us, but we get a garden bursting with life and healthy blooms.