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Planning Your Pollinator Garden: Native Perennials for Bees

As you start to plan your landscape this spring, why not include a pollinator garden to help challenged bees?   The truth is, a pollinator garden will attract and support many species beyond bees, and will also improve the overall health of your ecosystem.

I suggest that you include signage in your pollinator garden (Xerces Society is one good source) and make a point of showing your new garden to family, friends and neighbors.  Many folks still see bees as a threat, but we can demonstrate how gentle bees are, their beauty, and their importance as pollinators.

Some things to consider as you plan you pollinator garden:

–       We have approximately 4,000 different species of native bees in the U.S.  They vary significantly in their shape, their size, and the flowers that they can utilize.

–       Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) are not native to the U.S., but they are valuable pollinators and are the only bees to produce sufficient honey for humans to share.

–       Different bee species emerge at different times of year.  Honey Bees can be active at any time of year if the weather is warm enough and it is not raining.

–       Bees need both nectar and pollen.  Not all plants provide both, and the quality of the nectar or pollen may vary dramatically from plant to plant.

–       Plant for a succession of bloom from spring through fall to offer nectar and pollen to many different bee species.  Remember that early blooming native trees and shrubs can be very valuable to early emerging bees.

–       Some bees are forage generalists, such as Honey Bees and Leaf Cutter Bees.  Some native bees are specialists, like the Sunflower Bee, and may rely upon a single native plant genus or species.

–       Native bees come in many different shapes and sizes and their tongue lengths vary too.  Tongue length and body size and shape determine what flowers a given bee can access,  although some smart bees “nectar rob.”   They do this by biting a hole at the base of a flower to “steal” nectar – which feeds the bee but fails to pollinate the flower.

–       Plant a wide diversity of native plants to accommodate a wide diversity of native bees.  A plant with long, tubular flowers, such as native Larkspurs, may be accessed by long-tongued bees, but will not be useful to shorter tongued bees like Honey Bees.  Plant diversely.

–       Bees need habitat in addition to forage.  While Honey Bees live in large colonies, native bees live in very small colonies or are solitary. 70% of our native bees nest in the ground and need a sunny area with bare soil or very little vegetation.  Other native bees use old mouse holes, beetle tunnels, holes in trees, or pithy stems.  A pollinator garden needs to include habitat.

–       Bees are highly sensitive to pesticides.  Skip the secret sauce in your pollinator garden.

To get you started, here is a sampling of native perennials which attract and support bees:

Spring Blooming Perennials for Bees
Alexanders (Zizia species)
Anemone (Anemone species)
Beardtongue (Penstemon species)
Bleeding Hearts et al. (Dicentra species)
Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
Hepatica (Hepatica species)
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium species)
Lupine (Lupinus species)
False Indigo and Wild Indigo (Baptisia species)
Phlox (spring blooming Phlox species)
Prairie Smoke (Geum species)
Scorpionweed (Phacelia species)
Spiderwort (Tradescantia species)
Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum species)
Wild Geranium (Geranium species)
Wild Onion and Wild Garlic (Allium species)

Summer Blooming Perennials for Bees
Blanketflower (Gaillardia species)
Blazing Star (Liatris species)
Coneflower (Echinacea species)
Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum species)
Evening Primrose (Oenothera species)
False Sunflower (Heliopsis species)
Fireweed (Chamerion species)
Giant Hyssop (Agastache species)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Harebell (Campanula species)
Horsemint (Monarda Punctata)
Ironweed (Vernonia species)
Joe-Pye Weed & Boneset (Eupatorium, Eutrochium and Eupatoriadelphus species)
Milkweed (Asclepias species)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum species)
Phlox (summer blooming Phlox species)
Prairie Clover (Dalea species)
Prickly Pear (Opuntia species)
Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium species)
Stonecrop (Sedum species)
Tickseed (Coreopsis species)
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Wild Sage (Salvia species)
Vervain (Verbena species)

Fall Blooming Perennials for Bees
Aster (Symphyotrichum and Eurybia species)
False Aster (Boltonia species)
Gentian (Gentiana species)
Golden Aster (Chrysopsis species)
Goldenrod (Solidago species)
Mist Flower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
Obedient Plant (Physostegia species)
Sneezeweed (Helenium species)
Sunflower (Helianthus species)
Turtlehead (Chelone species)
White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)

Show the world you care about bees with a “Feed The Bees” t-shirt

Feed the Bees – Plant Some Forage! From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo:  Native bee on Baptisia
Photo credit: Flickr_chipmunk_1