Hello, honey

Invite bees for a lush garden

Melissa Erickson More Content Now

If you’re looking forward to an early summer tomato or a bumper crop of sugar snap peas, you’ll need to attract pollinators to your garden. Bees are one of your best bets.

“Bees are as important to a garden as they are to any other habitat,” said Matthew Shepherd, spokesman for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Yes, I do refer to gardens as habitat. They provide food and shelter to all sorts of wildlife, and how they are maintained can profoundly influence the diversity and abundance of wildlife. Bees will provide pollination of flowers, which can lead to seed for birds, a good harvest of orchard fruit and berries, lots of tomatoes or squash. The benefit varies with the type of garden and style of gardening.”

“Although there are many different pollinators on Earth, bees do the vast majority of pollination,” said Rusty Burlew, a beekeeper living in western Washington and founder of HoneyBeeSuite.com, which is dedicated to honey bees, beekeeping, wild bees, other pollinators and pollination ecology.

How to start

In the garden, bees are looking for nectar and pollen to take home to feed their young.

“In the act of collecting these materials, they inadvertently transfer pollen from flower to flower, which results in pollination. … It is a mutualism: the plants benefit from the bees and the bees benefit from the plants.”

Bees need three basic things: food (flowers), water and shelter.

“Having a steady supply of flowers is the first thing. Something has to be in bloom at all times during spring and summer. Think of it this way: when you’re feeding your kids, you can’t skip a week now and then. The same goes for bees,” Burlew said.

Choosing the best flowers for pollinators is a great first step in attracting bees.

“Native plants are often better for native bees, though there are some non-native plants that provide a rich source of nectar,” Shepherd said.

Heirloom varieties that have not undergone intensive breeding are ideal for attracting bees, Burlew said.

“Also, bees see a different portion of the spectrum than humans. Their vision favors shorter wavelengths, so they can see ultraviolet light and the blue/purple colors very well. Things that we see as red, they see as black, so when in doubt plant flowers that are blue and purple. Yellow and white work, too,” Burlew said.

Here are some plants that will help bring pollinators to your garden:

n Phacelia (Phacelia)

n Lupine (Lupinus)

n Penstemon, beardtongue (Penstemon)

n Milkweed (Asclepias)

n Bergamot, dotted mint (Monarda)

n Giant hyssop (Agastache)

n Blazing star (Liatris)

n Rattlesnake master (Eryngium)

n Ironweed (Vernonia)

n Prairie clover (Dalea)

n Wingstem (Verbesina)

n Sunflower (Helianthus)

n Aster (Symphotrichum)

n Goldenrod (Solidago)

n Redbud (Cercis)

n California lilac, New Jersey tea (Ceanothus)