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.
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.
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.
Top Ten Plants for Bees
- Prairie crocus
- Smooth blue beard tongue
- Wild bergamot
- Alpine Hdysarum
Early fall blooming
- Prairie goldenrod
- 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!
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.