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GARDENING FOR NATIVE BEES

Bees, bees and more bees!

For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think about bees is sweet, delicious honey. Yet, the common European honey bee, is only one of nearly 20 000 known bee species and is not actually native to North America.

Alberta has an incredible amount of bee diversity and is home to over 400 species of bees! Alberta bees vary in appearance from the familiar large, fuzzy bumble bee to more slender, metallic-coloured sweat bees to dark, stout leafcutter bees and many variations in between.

Consistent through all bees though are two-pairs of wings, generally hairy bodies, two compound eyes at the sides of their head and three simple eyes on top. Bees are also exclusively capable of carrying pollen, either on their legs or under their abdomen.

The most critical issue facing native bees is the loss or fragmentation of their habitat. Without food or nesting sites, bees are unable to reproduce and species’ numbers can dwindle. Thankfully, there is plenty that the average gardener, bee lover or concerned citizen can do to create a healthy bee habitat, even in urban areas!

Providing a Source of Food

Bees and plants have evolved alongside each other for nearly 100 million years and depend on one another for survival. Flowering plants provide bees with pollen and nectar (their only sources of food), while bees provide the pollination service, which allows these plants to properly reproduce.

Whether you’re interested in supporting native bees or honey bees, providing plenty of flowers ensures that all pollinators have plenty of food to keep them healthy. Whether your planting a few pots or an entire yard, keep the following in mind for the most success.

  1.  A variety of blooms will cater to a variety of bees. Bees see in the ultraviolet spectrum so they prefer purple, blue, yellow and white blooms.
  2. Bees need food from flowers throughout spring summer and fall, especially early and late in the growing season. Try to have something in bloom from April to October.
  3. Group plants of the same species close together to form large blocks of colour. These are easy for bees to see and pollinate.
  4. Native species are easiest to maintain and most beneficial to native bees.
  5. Avoid pesticides completely as they are designed to kill insects. Herbicides should only be applied to plants when they are not in bloom to avoid accidental contact with bees. Be careful that herbicides are not allowed to contaminate puddles, dew or other standing water that bees may drink from.

There are endless options of plants to choose for your space. If you’re having a little trouble deciding, ABC has created a Top Ten Plant List for Bees. These are readily available, native species that are known to be bee favourites.

Top Ten Plant List for Bees

  • Prairie Crocus
  • Smooth Blue Beard Tongue
  • Milkvetch
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Alpine Hedysarum
  • Fleabane
  • Lupine
  • Prairie Goldenrod
  • Aster
  • Purple Coneflower