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This is the Biggest Thing You Can Do to Help Bees

Article by: Christy Erickson
With over 4,000 species in North America and Hawaii alone, you might think we’re doing alright when it comes to bees, even in the face of devastating honey bee hive collapses. But what you rarely hear about when it comes to saving bees is that over 1,000 native bee species are currently declining or threatened with extinction.


Unlike the domesticated honey bee, native bees play a more understated role in the environment. Native bees pollinate native plants like wildflowers and berries along with many of the crops that feed us. However, while honey bees are transported en masse to commercial farms, solitary native bee species quietly travel from field to field, dining and pollinating as they go.


And while there are over two million managed honey bee hives in the United States alone, it might be native bees that are our saving grace. Since most wild bee species are solitary and don’t live in hives, they’re not affected by the colony collapse disorder that’s decimating the social honey bee. They’re also a much more sustainable solution — pollination by honey bees requires great amounts of human effort every year, whereas native bees thrive without our help.


In fact, humans are the very reason native bee species are at risk. Wildlife habitat is dwindling and becoming increasingly fragmented as urbanization spreads. And where there are plants to forage, the food may not be safe. Pesticides including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides harm bees directly and indirectly. Not only do pesticides impact bees’ foraging ability, reproduction, and survival rate, they also sometimes destroy the very plants that comprise the bees’ diet.


When it comes to bees, humans are also part of the solution. Adopting a bee-friendly lifestyle is easy to do with a few simple changes. You can stop spraying pesticides around your home or business, shop from farmers who forgo harmful pesticides, look for products that are Bee Better Certified, and let “weeds” stick around. But there’s one thing you can do that makes the biggest difference of all: Plant a pollinator garden.


A pollinator garden is a garden planted to provide nectar and pollen to bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. Pollinator gardens are planted with a variety of flowering species, including wildflowers, flowering shrubs, fruit trees, berry bushes, and herbs. They feature native grasses, bare ground, and dead wood to provide shelter and nesting sites. To complete the habitat, they have a water source to hydrate thirsty pollinators.


What your pollinator garden looks like depends on where you live. These wildlife habitats rely on native plant species to make wild pollinators feel at home, so a garden in Texas looks much different than one in New England. Regardless, the principles are the same: Choose flowering plants that have a long history in your region. Select plants with different blooming times, flower colors, and flower shapes. Plant clusters of each variety. Don’t apply pesticides.


There are a few other tips for a truly lush pollinator garden. Incorporating plants that return year after year, known as perennials, keeps your garden’s ecosystem alive year-round and reduces labor each spring. Fruit trees offer shade, shelter, and delicious organic food while also benefitting bees. And letting annuals go to seed means a free seed supply for next year.


All of this together creates a gorgeous garden landscape that’s pulling double duty as a habitat for beleaguered native bees. And with urbanization showing no signs of slowing down, there’s no question that they need it. Before long, you’ll be noticing bee species you never even knew existed, along with countless butterflies and birds, making their home in the oasis you created.


Image via Unsplash



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