As every gardener knows, bees and other garden “travelers” are an absolute must for pollinating, particularly for larger crops that are more difficult and time-consuming to pollinate by hand. In fact, some 150 well-known (and eaten every day) fruit and vegetable crops in the U.S. depend upon pollinators such as bees.
Unfortunately, according to the Pollinator Partnership, about 50% of U.S. managed honeybee colonies have been lost during the past 10 years. Reasons are unclear, but bee populations can reduce for any number of reasons. Drought, not enough food, overuse of pesticides or relocation to a new hive can all move bees from your garden to points elsewhere.
If you’re noticing fewer bees and are having fertilization problems in your garden, it may be time to attract visitors and encourage them to proliferate. Try these tips:
Plant a diverse variety of flowers around your fruit and vegetable gardens. Always include at least one side-border of flowers near your crops in order to encourage bees to the area. Different bee species are attracted to different flowers, and at varying times of the year, so keeping a good variety going means exposure to a greater total number of bees.
Plant single flowers. Flowers with one ring of petals provide the most nectar and pollen and will be an attractive feast for bees.
Provide a nesting habitat. Very neat and orderly gardens are less attractive to bees than lush, full and somewhat “wild”-growing plants. Border your garden with a nice, lush mix where bees can hide and inhabit.
Include wildflowers of native species. Bees that survive well in your climate have evolved to do best with native plant species, too.
Be colorful. Very bright colors, such as yellow, blue and royal purple, are visual “signals” for bees and will draw them in.
Be very careful choosing pesticides. Some pesticides will kill bees as well as the insects you don’t want. Non-chemical methods such as row covers, or targeted pesticides (i.e. for slugs or caterpillars), are better choices.
Make sure your bees have water. Like anything else, bees need water to survive. Even if you’ve planted drought-hardy plants, make sure areas around your yard are watered regularly enough to support thirsty insect colonies.
Bees aren’t the only pollinators that can benefit your crops; other insects often utilize or spread pollen as they travel through your garden. However, bees are still nature’s best answer for natural pollination. If you’re still having trouble boosting your bee population, try hand-pollinating in the meantime to keep things blooming. Over time, your efforts should attract more pollinators and make your garden more beautiful than ever.