Gardening For Bees

I’ve talked about how there is a decided lack of resources about “bee gardening.” Nevertheless, there are some things we do know from gardening for other pollinators (like no pesticides) and things we know about bees in general that we can apply to gardening for them.

First of all, we know that bees don’t see the color red. Interesting, isn’t it? That’s why we plant red for the hummingbirds. It’s not that hummingbirds always need red plants; it’s that they have evolved to know that they will find nectar in the red flowers because the bees won’t have been there. Bees see the color red–if they see it at all–as black.

The color that bees see best is blue. So if you would prefer that bees stay away from you when you are out-of-doors, wear some other color. They other colors that they prefer are white, yellow and purple. Since these are pretty much the same colors that butterflies prefer, it’s easy to garden for bees and butterflies at the same time.

Another suggestion is to try to have several different types of flowers in bloom at the same time (a minimum of 3 is the suggestion) and plant as broad a swath as you can. You want the bees to find your garden and you want them to get as much pollen from it as possible.

Finally, another way to help them is to put a very shallow saucer full of water in the garden–and then put stone in the water. This will give the bees places to perch and sip the water. I’ve seen suggestions that the water be so shallow that it should evaporate daily. That choice is up to you.

Wordless Wednesday–Wildlife

Canada Goose

Remember all the geese in the Target parking lot this winter? A couple liked it so much they’ve actually stayed and nested. How crazy is that? This is the male–the sentry.

Female on nest

Here’s the female on her nest. It may not look like anything but mulch but she’s actually sitting on a tree stump that she’s lined with feathers.

I’m usually the only one crazy enough to park way out here so they’re rarely disturbed, I would hope. Then again, Canada Geese are not really desirable wild life most places so perhaps many people would want them disturbed. Hard to say.

And I’ve actually broken out a hose–shocking I know–since it’s been so many days without rain at my place. I thought I’d give my ferns a drink while I was watering my houseplants in the summer-like warmth we’ve been having.

In so doing, I accidentally disturbed this little guy.

baby rabbit

It ran from the ever greens under the dogwood (you can see fallen dogwood petals all around it on the driveway) down the length of the bed and I don’t think realized there was a drop off the stone wall at the end.  It kind of lay there, stunned, for a good 20 minutes. I hope it just had the wind knocked out of it. It was the cutest little thing (although rabbits are awfully destructive in my yard–I’ll be cursing it shortly I’m sure!). It was barely as big as my hand and I have a tiny hand.

While the photo doesn’t necessarily tell you how tiny it was, for perspective, look at the dogwood petals–they’re about 2″ long!

I kept checking and after about 20 minutes it was gone. Since the evergreen cover is so near, I hope it was able to get to safety and didn’t become a meal for a raptor–but that too would be nature’s cycle. I’d just feel bad that I caused it!


Making A Happy Home For Native Bees

Friday I talked about how little I could find about gardening for native bees. There are some resources for making a yard attractive for them however.

The first thing, of course, is to avoid the use of pesticides–and remember that the word “pesticide” includes not only insecticide but fungicide and weed killers too. All of these act on the nervous system of insects (as well as possibly on higher life forms–like us!) . It’s been well-established that butterflies are highly susceptible to pesticides. Why do we think that these other insects are not?

Since many of these bees are ground dwelling–and here again, I don’t want you all to confuse them with hornets that nest in the ground. Every year we have bumble bees nest in the same spot in the ground. We mow over the hole without any problem. I’ve even had a feeble little aged dog stumble and put a foot into the hole without any issue whatsoever.  These are not hornets. Ground nesting bees are not a threat.

But that means that you’ll want to be careful about your soil (as you should be anyway, of course). Carefully consider what sorts of soil treatments you use. Needless to say, we do not use the “chemical” 4 step plans.

Mason bees will nest bore into wood and nest there. These are NOT carpenter bees–they do not technically damage the wood, although by boring in they are making holes.

You can buy or make mason bee nesting boxes for these bees to call home. They should be on a south or east facing tree and should be protected from the rain somehow.

Most likely you have seen–in catalogs or garden centers–boxes or containers filled with round pencil shaped hollow tubes. That is a mason bee nest box. You certainly don’t need to buy anything for your bees–I don’t–and I have lots of them anyway.

It’s far more important to keep them happy by creating happy conditions for them. On Friday I’ll talk about colors on the “bee spectrum” and how to plant.

We Need To Do More–and Learn More–About Our Native Bees

This time of year I give a lot of lectures. And thankfully, one of the garden clubs has hired me to speak about “Gardening for Pollinators.” But while I can find all sorts of things about gardening for butterflies and hummingbirds, and I know more than most human beings should know about ants, there’s very little out there about gardening for bees, unless we’re talking about honeybees.

And while honeybees are nice, I’m much more interested in talking about our native bees, which are also in trouble.  Native bees, unlike honey bees, are often solitary. They do not nest in hives and they are rarely provoked to sting unless some extraordinary circumstance occurs.

The Spoiler was actually stung by a bumblebee once. They nest in cavities in our stone wall. I know this and I am always careful to show him where their nests are. The bees don’t mind in the least if you walk by their nests–they’ll do that “I’m going to fly up in your face to see if I can scare you,” thing but so long as you do nothing about that except continue on about your business, nothing happens.

The Spoiler  got stung because he wasn’t paying attention. He as watering some containers and I can only presume the bee was either going in or coming out and he just kept right on watering.

If you know the Spoiler, you also know that he believes that if a little water is good, a lot of water is better, so he had the host turned up full bore, of course.  Needless to say, the poor bee felt assaulted. What was it to do but sting?

So that’s the sort of circumstance where a native bee might be provoked to sting. As you can tell, it takes a lot.

On Monday, I’ll talk about what little I can find about making our yards habitable for these bees!

Wordless Wednesday


The parade of flowering trees continues. This is a crabapple, planted before I “married” the house.

Most people cringe when they hear the word “crabapple.” This is a variety with “persistent” fruit, meaning that the little “apples” don’t fall off the tree and make a mess. If you haven’t checked out crab apples lately, you should!


Here’s one of our two dogwoods. It’s the one located over the 1,ooo gallon oil tank that I mentioned on Monday! This is the one that flowers reliably. It’s the native, cornus florida.  The other is also a native, but it’s pink and it’s on very shallow ground–when I dig there, I can only go down about 4″ before I hit the bedrock. So the poor tree is understandably stressed.

dog wood flowers

Here are the flowers. Every tiny green swelling in the center will become a red fruit for the birds. They love this tree!

hypertufa trough

And for something completely different for a change, I’m starting to plant my containers. This is a hypertufa trough I made several years ago. The plants all died over the winter so I had to re-plant. We’ll see how these fare.

Living Mulch

A few weeks back I published the Earth Kind quiz. I talked about how I only scored a “good” (or 3 frogs) on the quiz and that one of the reasons for my abysmally low score was that I didn’t mulch.

Overview of are with moss & ferns

At the time I joked that perhaps I should have said that yes, I do mulch because I allow moss and native ferns to cover my soil.  This is just one area of my garden where it is doing so successfully.

This is a raised bed (if you can imagine such a thing, we have a 1,000 gallon in ground oil tank under here!) with a dogwood and a Japanese maple planted in front and rhododendrons nearer the house.  We inherited this from the original owner of the house.

Over time, rather than planting this with annuals, as I used to do, I have started filling in with perennials and the few bulbs that will tolerate the clay. There are hellebores down in front, hostas under the trees and the few evergreens that you can see in the photo. That wispy green evergreen is supposed to be a gold thread hinoki cypress. It’s not gold in all the shade. We keep it because the birds love the evergreen cover.

But clearly nature abhors a vacuum so she has begun to fill this in with moss and I am delighted.  Even last summer, when we only had 4″ of rain between June and August does not seem to have affected the mossy ground cover.

And then the ferns fill in as well–so thickly that I can’t really walk under here, which is great until I need to weed. Here are some photos of them just coming in.

fern close up

There are two types that fill in. My photos here are mostly of the lady fern. The other fern, the sensitive fern, hasn’t really begun to show up yet.


Here you can get a great idea of how many of them there will be in the moss.

closer view

A closer view of some of the fiddleheads.

more ferns

These ferns are at the edge of the Japanese maple–near the walkway. About the only place they don’t grow is right under the maple itself. It’s too heavily shaded.

ferns next to

Finally these ferns are at the edge of our walkway. They even come up between the slate slabs. It’s really amazing. And yet Earth Kind would prefer I mulch over all of this? I think not, thanks so much!

A Tale of Two School Yards and Bees

A week or so ago, I got an interesting story from the Xerxes society (for those that don’t know this wonderful group, they do work with pollinator and invertebrate conservation.  Their web site can be found here!) about a school yard in Portland Oregon that had embraced its ground nesting bees. They went so far to nickname the gentle bees “tickle bees” for the way they felt when they were held in the hand!

You can read more about Sabin Elementary and their “Tickle bees” here!

Not only did this story warm my heart and illustrate everything that I’ve been trying to say about bees but it sadly brought to mind the hysteria of my own local school boards when dealing with ground nesting bees. As you can well imagine, the parents immediately demanded insecticides, and threatened lawsuits when that wasn’t immediately done for fear that someone–anyone–might get stung!

As I indicated Friday, if we all didn’t behave as if we were trying to signal a fleet of 747s every time a flying insect (or even better, a most precious bat) came into our presence, there would be a lot less need for poisons and death.

If you’d like to read the sad reaction of the school in question, that can be found here. Interestingly enough, this was about the last of the articles I found because of course the bees were already gone for the season, despite the hysterical reactions of the parents. It will be interesting to see if they come back this year (as they most likely will) and if anyone has managed to talk any sense into any of these parents.

We have cicada killer wasps that return to our church every summer. There are notices in our church Bulletin about it every summer (despite the fact that the Bulletin calls them “Hermit bees.” I kind of like that better, actually. It sounds far less threatening!) We all behave as adults–even the children–about it. Last year I saw one father stopping to watch them with his son.

As someone who has had a cicada killer nesting on my own property for years, I know that while they can look intimidating, they don’t sting–or again, I have no idea what you need to do to them to get them to sting you.  Ours nested in the walkway to our home and got a bit feisty if we wanted to use it.  I would merely walk by, greeting the wasp in question with a “Hello Goldie” as I walked by.

Sometimes a little politeness goes a long way–even with bees & wasps.