The Importance of Bees

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Mulch blueberry plants with aged sawdust and feed with cottonseed meal or an acid fertilizer.
    • Set out zinnias, cosmos, impatiens and begonias for lots of colorful flowers all summer long.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus”, or diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plants, or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of Safer’s Insecticidal Soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.
    • The “Wave” petunias make wonderful hanging baskets for full sun. They come in purple, bright pink, reddish-purple and pale “misty lilac.” They can also be used for a colorful summer ground cover.
    • Cage or stake tomatoes while still small so that you can train them as they grow.

The Importance of Bees

Bees are extremely important to gardeners. Without them, we would not have fruit to harvest. Peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and beans are pollinated by bees. Watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers and squash require bee pollination to set fruit. Strawberries, apples, cherries, plums, peaches, pears, berries of all kinds and grapes need bees for pollination.

Three types of bees do most of the pollinating: honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees. There are 1600 species of native California bees, 26 of these are bumblebees and most of the rest are solitary bees. Honeybees come from Europe.

California native bees are great for your vegetable garden, and bumblebees are great pollinators of tomatoes. You can add flowers and shrubs to your garden or landscape that will attract the bees. In so doing, you will be helping to sustain these valuable insects and, as a reward, you will enjoy bumper crops in your own orchards and vegetable gardens as well.

Since native bees are around all through the growing season, it is important to plant flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer and fall. By grouping the flowers that attract bees together, you are more likely to draw bees to your garden. Gardens with ten or more species of attractive plants will attract the largest number of bees.

Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than will individual plants scattered through the area. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.

Choose several colors of flowers. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Some of the best pollen sources that bloom in the spring are California poppy, calendula, larkspur and wallflower (Erysimum). A planting of mixed spring wildflowers will give you many fine bee plants. Manzanitas, flowering currant (Ribes), Oregon grape (Mahonia) and wild lilacs (Ceanothus sp.) are good shrubs for early in the season.

There are many good choices for late spring and early summer. Yarrows of all kinds attract bees, as do catmint, penstemons, lavenders, lupines, thymes and borage. Bush anemone (Carpenteria californica) attracts several kinds of bees and huckleberries are good bee plants. Rosemary is very attractive to bees and so are elderberries.

Midsummer choices include gaillardia, echinacea, coreopsis, germander, salvias, verbenas and asters. Basil, carrots and herbs left to flower, cosmos, bachelor buttons, squash and pumpkins will all attract bees to your garden. Rudbeckias, sedums and sunflowers will provide forage for the end of summer and into the fall.

Plant native plants, if possible, to readily attract our native bees. Let your garden be a little “wild” with a variety of plants to make a bee-friendly garden. What’s good for the bees is good for our fruits and vegetables and a good thing to do for the planet.