Gardens for Bees
Time to turn our attention to bees! When we are talking bees it isn't unusual for our minds to conjure up an image of the honeybee or the bumblebee. However, there are so many different kinds of bees that will frequent your garden. I want to make sure they get their due credit.
Knowing a bit about different species of bees can actually help you target trouble areas in your garden. Having trouble with your tomatoes? The Yellow-faced bumblebee and the California bumblebee are great for tomatoes.
*As with the previous post on butterflies this post will focus on bees native to California.
Planting a wide variety of different shaped flowers will maximize the amount of species you get. Bees vary in body size and feeding parts, so plant accordingly and a varied diet is always a good thing.
Plant varieties with different flowering times so there will always be something to eat. Early spring is a vital time for bees. They are starting to nest and most things have yet to bloom. Manzanitas are a good plant for early in the season.
Plant many of the same plants together. Don't scatter them throughout the garden. This is more likely to attract the bee's attention and lure them over.
Alright, now for the bees and their favorite plants!
Called masons because they use mud to create walls between their egg chambers, this species ranges in size and come in different colors from metallic blue to green. All mason bees have round abdomens, heads and thoraces as compared to other types of bees which have more oval shaped configurations. They also carry their pollen on the underside of their abdomens instead of their hind legs. The female of the common blue orchard mason bee has horns on her lower face while males commonly have dense mustache-like white hairs on their faces. Most species nest in preexisting cavities in wood.
*The males don't sting and the females will only sting if trapped or squeezed so they make an ideal garden resident. They will work in cool or rainy weather.
They are a good candidate for bee homes but be very careful, an improperly built or maintained home can spread disease and do more harm then good. Look for my upcoming post all about bee homes.
Medium to tiny bees, their populations peak from March to May as this group is among the first to emerge from their soil nests in spring. Many have metallic coloring and are characterized by grooves that run down the center of their faces and between their compound eyes. They carry pollen on the upper part of their back hind legs as well as on the back sides of the insect’s mid-section.
*These non-aggressive bees get a bad wrap. People often despise them because they make tiny holes in their lawn. But it could do us some good to think of it in different terms. They are only active four-to-six weeks of the year and those tiny holes help aerate the soil which is a cheaper alternative to buying lawn aerate shoes. Not to mention it will save you time it would take to stomp across your lawn.
Note: Most are harmless to humans. Nearly all the females have stingers, but the stingers are often too small to penetrate human skin.
Leaf Cutter Bees
These bees have triangular or heart-shaped abdomens. Their pollen is carried on the underside. They are slow fliers with thick heads that hold muscles required for leaf cutting. They use the leaf material to partition their nests between eggs; most will nest in holes in wood.
* An efficient pollinator for summer gardens and flowers. Because they are most active in warm summer months, they are great pollinators for squash, melons, cucumbers, peas and other summer vegetables and fruits.
This is a group of medium to small elongate bees so named because of a tendency to alight on the skin and lap up sweat for moisture and salt. They are dark bees with pale hair bands at the ends of the abdominal segments giving a striped appearance. They typically carry pollen on their hind legs, but sometimes carry it on the underside of their abdomen. They nest in soil in annual colonies.
*Great pollinators for stone fruits, pomme fruits, alfalfa and sunflowers.
Long Horned Bees
Medium to large body bees, this group gets their names from the long antennae of the males. Females of this species do not have long antennae. Both the males and the female of this species have hairy legs, but only the females have branched hairs for carrying pollen.
*These solitary tend to emerge in the mornings and early afternoons during July and August. They're key pollinators of melons and squash and sunflower
Bumble bees move relatively slowly among flowers and are easy to recognize by their hairy chunky forms and yellow bands on their backs and abdomens. This hard-working species is one of the most common and easy to identify from its bright yellow facial hair. Female bumble bees’ hind legs widen to form pollen baskets often filled with bright colored, moistened pollen pellets.
*This bumblebee is largely a summer bee with most of the hive living from April to September and is the most common bumblebee of California. Bumble bees have a wicked sting, and they can sting repeatedly.
- UC Davis article, 2018, Beyond the honey bee: Learn more about California native bees