Nature at Home
3 Things You Can Do to Help Native Bees 3 Things You Can Do to Help Native Bees Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert at Rutgers University who was a senior author of a paper published by the Royal Society, stated, “Wild bees are often more effective pollinators than honeybees, but research has shown several species are in sharp decline.”

Did you know that some 4,000 species of native bees live in the U.S. and Canada alone? Native bees are incredibly important insects whose pollination services keep agricultural and ecosystems functioning and healthy. Unfortunately, many species are in real trouble due to agricultural pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change.

The good news is that each of us can, and should, do something to help the bees in our own backyard.

1. Plant Native Wildflowers
Like us, bees need a balanced diet to remain healthy. One of the very best things that you can do to help out your neighborhood bees is to plant wildflowers that are native to your region’s current hardiness zone, as native wildflowers are especially suited to feed the pollinators that have co-evolved with them.

It’s also very important to plant a variety of plants that bloom at different times throughout the season. This will allow bees to always have a food source throughout the time that they are active.

There are many sources online for sustainably harvested native seeds, but the best place to find local native plants is by sharing with other likeminded gardeners. Keep in mind that most bees can’t see the color red, so blue, yellow, white or purple are often their favorites.

2. Provide Nesting Habitat
Out of the 4,000 or so bee species that inhabit the U.S. and Canada, most are solitary. This means that native nesting bees are hardworking single females providing nectar and pollen for a few eggs at a time. After she has stored the food for each egg, in the form of a little round or square loaf that she has molded herself from the pollen she has collected, the nesting chamber is sealed off.

The vast majority of these solitary bees nest in the ground, which means they need a safe place to lay their eggs. By allowing a corner of your backyard to remain in a natural state with leaves, taller grass or hard-packed soil, you’ll be providing them a place to build their nests.

Most of the native bees found in the U.S. and Canada are too small to sting, not to mention it is very risky for a solitary bee to sting. If a female bee stings, and is swatted and killed after doing so, her young will perish without her. You might be surprised to learn that no male native bees have stingers.

3. Offer Them a Pesticide-Free Environment
Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are all bad news for bees. Pesticides come in many forms and some, such as neonicotinoids, are systemic, meaning that they make every part of the plant, including their nectar and pollen toxic to bees. To avoid harming bees in this way, avoid spraying entirely. The more habitat you provide for insects in your garden, the more you invite beneficial insects and other invertebrates to appear and control your pests for you naturally.

You should also always ensure that any plants or seeds that you purchase were grown organically and without neonicotinoids. Remember, these pesticides never leave the plant and can make the ground that other plants grow in toxic as well for years to come.

Good luck with your ‘build it and they will come’ endeavors to make your garden more bee-friendly! If you are interested in learning more about the bees that you see in your area, consider downloading the free iNaturalist Seek app. Simply take a photo with your phone, post the location and image, and experts will not only use your photos for citizen science, but they will also provide you with an identification.

Note:The information contained in this article pertains to the U.S. and Canada. Native bees found in other areas may have different needs and/or characteristics.

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