For Our Gardeners
- Bumblebee using her proboscis to suck flower nectar.
Bees and other insects have a proboscis — a straw-like mouth part they use to suck nectar from flowers. The length varies with species, and determines which flowers a particular bee will visit. Choosing plants with a diversity of flower sizes will help accommodate many different species of pollinators.
Plants with flower clusters – such as milkweed, joe-pye weed, showy stonecrop, and garden phlox – provide a spot for bees to land and are big enough to also support large butterflies. Composite flowers – such as blazing star, black-eyed susan, purple coneflower, goldenrod, zinnia, and aster – also provide stable landing spots.
Here are some tips that will enhance your garden and make your bees and butterflies very, very happy:
- A gorgeous native plant garden.
- Plant flowers and trees that are native to your area, since native pollinators prefer them four to one over non-native plants, which typically provide very little nutrition. Native plants are also more resistant to bugs, don’t require fertilizers or pesticides, and are drought-resistant.
- Don’t use pesticides or herbicides! You’ll end up killing a lot more than you ever intended to, including beneficial insects and worms – and the birds that eat them.
- 70% of mason bees nest in the ground!
- Don’t use mulch or black plastic for weed prevention. Over 70% of native ground bees (including bumblebees) nest in the ground and can’t possibly burrow through inches of mulch or plastic, and then have energy left to dig their nesting tunnels. Locate the area of your yard that gets the most sun, and leave part of it bare ground for all those wonderful pollinators!
- Bees and other pollinators are drawn to flowers that are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow colors, and they love herbs, especially mint, oregano, parsley and lavender!
- Keep your flowers well-watered, since watering promotes nectar flow.
- Provide early-blooming plants for Orchard Mason Bees, like pussy willow, dogwood, crocus, red bud, Cirsium thistle and viburnum, and fruits such as peach, pear, apple and blueberry. Dandelions might be weeds, but they’re a good source of nectar in the early spring, before other flowers open.
- Plant plenty of aster, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, rhododendron, basil and rosemary for our great summer pollinators, the Leafcutter bees.
- Plant large, 3-4 foot patches of like flowers in close proximity to one another.
- Mason Bees need mud to divide their brood cells.
- Grow a variety of different plants, because flowers of different shapes and colors attract different bee (and butterfly) species.
- Plant flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer, and fall seasons in order to provide pollen and nectar resources for all native bees. As some plants die out, others should take their place, ensuring ongoing flowering for seasonal bees.
- Mason Bees need mud to divide their brood cells. Make sure your bees have a source of clean water, and mud nearby to build their nests!
Why are native plants better than non-natives?
- They grow easily without fertilizers;
- They require fewer pesticides, if any, for maintenance;
- They need less water than non-natives plantings;
- They produce more nutritious nectar and pollen for wildlife;
- They are less likely to become invasive than non-natives;
- They promote local native biological diversity;
- They support 14 times as many species of pollinators.
Some interesting facts about flowers and their nectaries:
- The size of the flower doesn’t influence the quality or quantity of nectar. Many herb plants have small flowers, yet are excellent nectar plants.
- Many double flowers not only have less nectar than single flowers, but also make access much more difficult, so try to avoid them.
- Plants receiving sun at least six hours a day produce more nectar than plants receiving fewer rays.
- Fertile soil is important for healthy plants, and healthy plants produce more nectar.
- Some flowers have nectar guides – an ultraviolet color in the center of
- This Rudbeckia has provided nectar guides for the bees by producing patterns in UV colors that humans can’t see.
the flower or on the petals – that the bees can see, but humans can’t. (These special markings give these flowers a competitive edge over flowers that don’t have UV markings.) Other flowers produce scents that attract the pollinators.
- Once pollinated, the flower loses the color or scent that attracted the insects. Its energy then goes into the development of the seed and fruit, instead of into the production of nectar.