Spring is here—and with it our ambitious plans for thriving summer gardens! And besides the usual considerations about herbs, vegetables, and plots, we’re asking ourselves one vitally important question. Which native plants are best for attracting the Earth’s most precious pollinator: bees? Don’t fear the sting—make sure you plant a bee-friendly garden that’s a perfect source of pollen for our plucky friends.
In case you weren’t aware, bees are a key component of biodiversity—they provide essential ecosystem services to wild plants and crops. However, bee populations have been declining rapidly, with a growing body of evidence pointing to neonicotinoid pesticides as the culprit.
According to Friends of the Earth, Canada is home to approximately 800 different species of native bees. We depend on them to act as pollinators, allowing for plants to reproduce. Pollen from the male part of the flower, known as the stamen, is transferred by bees to the female part of the flower, known as the pistol. This process allows a plant to be fertilized and produce seeds.
While it’s difficult to accurately catalogue the populations of all 800 confirmed species of native bees in Canada, York University has collected data for bumble bees in Ontario, which account for 20 of the 400 species that can be found in the province. According to Sheila Colla, Assistant Professor at York, findings reveal that about one-third to one-quarter of these species are at risk of extinction. In some cases, the decline has been over 90 percent.
So, what can we do to help bees in Canada thrive?
Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden
Planting a bee-friendly garden will not only benefit the bees, but it can also benefit you, your family, and neighbours! Planting a small batch of native wildflowers and herbs alongside your vegetable garden will not only provide a sanctuary for local bee populations, but it will also improve your vegetable yield. According to the Bee Careful initiative,
“The crop yield is significantly higher with pollination by bees. This applies to all kinds of fruit such as apples, strawberries and cherries, almost all oilseeds such as rapeseed, linseed and safflower, and all kinds of vegetables such as beans, peas and cucumbers. The seed production of fodder crops and vegetables also benefit from bee pollination.”
Looking to get started? Here are some tips.
Plant Native Species
“Research has shown that local native pollinators prefer local native plants,” writes Pollinator Partnership, which has developed informative regional planning guides for public use. If you require more guidance sourcing native plants, consult your local garden centre or club.
Choose native plants, trees, and shrubs that are rich in pollen and nectar. Selecting a variety of native plants that bloom at different times throughout the season will allow for a continuous source of pollen and nectar for those bees. Make sure that you plant multiples of the same plant together—this makes it easier for pollinators to find and collect pollen.
Peruse this super helpful print below to learn which plants are especially attractive to roaming bees.
If you don’t want to kill the bees you’re luring into your garden, ditch insecticides and don’t spray pesticides! Insects are a sign of a healthy garden, so befriend the caterpillars that may be munching on your plant leaves.
Provide Plenty of Water
Bees need water, too! They are constantly foraging for water to use for hive cooling, for thinning the nectar that they feed to larva, and for controlling humidity levels inside the hive. Providing water in a shallow dish along with stones for a dry landing pad will go a long way toward a truly bee-friendly garden.
If you’re not an avid gardener, that’s okay! There are many initiatives underway across the country that bring communities together to protect our pollinator friends.
Ready to get started? Head to the Honey Bee Conservatory to learn more in-depth tips on building the bee-friendly garden that will give back to your crops, community, and ecosystem!
— Post by Scout Program Director Shelby Kerbel