Attracting Native Pollinators

Native Pollinators

When you hear the word “pollinator”, the first insect that comes to mind is likely the honey bee. While they are voracious pollinators, foraging in an area up to 5 kilometres from their hive, honeybees are actually better pollen collectors than spreaders. They are also not native to North America, having been introduced in the early 1600s from Europe. In Edmonton, honey bees are unlikely to survive on their own in great numbers in the natural environment due to our harsh winter climate.

There are, however, thousands of bee species that are native to North America. Some native species are social insects like wasps. Bumblebees also create a small colony where they raise their young together. Other bees are solitary, living their life on their own. All of these bees provide valuable pollination services for plants in the vicinity of their nest as most of these bees only forage in a 200m range.

Blue Orchard Mason Bee

Benefits to Natural Areas and Ecosystems

While we appreciate the value of pollinators when it comes to our own food production, it’s not often that we recognize the value of pollinators in helping plants reproduce. That is, of course, why the shrubs and trees produce fruit – to spread its seeds in the hope of fostering the growth of a new plant. Without the services of these bees, some plants may go unfertilized, decreasing the chance of that plants’ survival. Some of these relationships have been developed so that a single type of bee will only pollinate one genera of flower. When we lose one of these species, the other is lost as well.

Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee

Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee

Feeding bees

Solitary bees need shelter and food, as we all do. You can help provide both of those for a variety of native bees. The first thing you could do is to provide a rich food source for bees in your yard; think of it as an edible garden for bees, which need nectar- and pollen-rich flowers for the entire growing season. Bees prefer yellow, white, blue, and purple flowers, planted in clusters. Plant in open areas, so the flowers are easier to find. Focus on perennial native species, as they require less maintenance.

Canada Goldenrod

Top Ten Plants for Bees

Spring blooming

  • Prairie crocus
  • Smooth blue beard tongue

Summer blooming

  • Wild bergamot
  • Alpine Hdysarum
  • Lupine
  •  Fleabane

Early fall blooming

  • Prairie goldenrod
  • Aster
  • Purple coneflower

Providing shelter for native bees

Bees often live in tunnels in dead trees. You can replicate this quite easily by drilling holes of a variety of sizes (3/32” – 3/8”) 15 cm into a log. Drill as many as you please – the more locations you provide, the more bees can use it. Different species of solitary bee use different sized holes. Bees will not nest in a tunnel that’s open on both ends so be sure that one end is closed. Place the log in a location near a landmark – a fence, tree, or wall. It should receive morning sun, and afternoon shade. Be patient, as it will take time for bees to find your new bee hotel!

Bee hotel log

Bee hotel log

-Michael Hamilton



Gardening for Bees by Apiaries and Bees For Communities, Stacey Cedergren, 2015.

Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, Xerces Society, 2015.

Easiest Volunteer Gig Going

As I sweat through Edmonton’s spring, it’s hard to remember a time when the city was a barren landscape of snow and ice. It seems only days ago…

The frosts are a distant memory except for the seedlings I overwintered for the Edmonton Native Plant Group. These first year plants wouldn’t have made it sitting out, bare to the elements. So I pulled up my socks for the determined folks over at ENPG. Judith Golub brought me over two trays with tiny bits of Blue Grama Grass, Meadow Blazingstar and Golden Aster.

Now here’s the hard part: I put them in my garden and covered them with dirt.
Blue Grama Grass, Meadow Blazingstar and Golden Aster, barely a year old.

Blue Grama Grass, Meadow Blazingstar and Golden Aster, barely a year old.

By September, my veggies had all been harvested and I had just enough room to fit these dainties in my garden. I dug a few inches down, placed the trays, and backfilled the dirt just over the edges and between each pot.


When I prepared my garden for vegetables, I brought the trays up as well.

As I shivered through the winter, these hardy beauties bided their time, snug in their beds. Just before May long weekend, when I was almost brave enough to plant my veggies back in, I dug up the trays. I made sure the plants had water and sun. And we both kinda hung out together.

Then I emailed Judith. I said “that was pretty hard work. What’s the point in all this, anyways?”

“For years, the City of Edmonton allowed ENPG to use a part of the land at their Old Man Creek Nursery for a native plant nursery to raise plants for seed and to grow for those communities and schools wishing to put in native plant beds, as well as for restoration purposes at Nisku and Fort Saskatchewan Prairies. ENPG also sells native plants at various events around the city. Due to the Anthony Henday expansion OMCN has to move to another location, and we have to also move our plants.”

The ENPG sells these seedlings each spring at local sales as well as Arch Greenhouses.

Judith was pretty jazzed over rising sales of their seedlings. “The desire for native plants has increasingly (and encouragingly!) grown over the years, by gardeners realizing the benefits of growing natives, as well as wanting to help preserve our local species. Each year, volunteers grow more and more from seed, but second-year plants are more robust and take to transplanting better, so we need space to allow the potted up seedlings to over-winter.”

And then she asked if I wanted to keep my seedlings. “Over-wintered plants may be used by the ‘foster parents’ in their own gardens, with the understanding that ENPG may wish to collect seed and seedlings from them for our own use, thus giving ENPG a much larger seed and plant bank.”

Judith said

Judith said “Don’t give up on the ones that “didn’t make it” – blue grama grass, for instance, is called a ‘warm weather’ grass as it often doesn’t show up until mid-June!”

I notched off an hour of my Master Naturalist volunteer time, and the ENPG is slowly taking over the city.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Judith meant when she wrote: “having the plants spread around the city ensures that if one particular species should succumb to disease or pests in one location, there will be other surviving populations elsewhere.”