Black and Gold Bumblebee (Bombus auricomis) on Monarda fistulosa Photo: Holm Design and Consulting, LLC
Cut stems of tall natives such as this Joe Pye-weed down to about 18" and let them stand over the winter Photo: Trish Beckjord
A small carpenter bee (Andrena vicina) has excavated the pith at the end of this stem. Photo: Holm Design and Consulting, LLC
Okay, take a deep breath. The spring native plant sale frenzy is over. I hope each of you was able to buy everything on your list and then some! Now that we’ve made it to June and our gardens are cleaned up and planted (!!!**!#!), it’s time to celebrate National Pollinator Month.
This year, the National Wildlife Federation, who co-founded the National Pollinator Garden Network, is celebrating the third anniversary of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. I wrote about this initiative last year and have added my own garden to the map. Have you registered your native garden yet? It’s easy to do and the website offers helpful references and a checklist you can use to help you assess your garden and yard practices. It is very similar to the checklist used in the Conservation@Home programs available here in the Chicago region so think about going local!
In honor of June being National Pollinator Month, and in celebration of National Pollinator Week June 16th – 23rd, here is some information about some of our bee pollinators in the Chicago region and their interactions with our native plants. Much of this information comes from fact-filled blog posts by Heather Holm, pollinator expert, author and lecturer. You can find a link to her website at the end of this article to read more.
Bumblebees (Bombus) are generalist feeders and will visit a wide variety of wildflowers to forage for nectar and pollen. To encourage bumblebees in your garden, plant a variety of native plants that will offer these resources through the growing season. Spring is an especially important season because starting a new colony for that year is dependent upon the emerging Queen’s success at finding food and nesting opportunities. See Support Bumblebees by Providing Forage in 3 Seasons by Heather Holm.
A brief list of plants for bumblebees includes Wild Geranium, Virginia Waterleaf, American Bladdernut and Ohio Spiderwort for spring; Lead Plant, Purple Prairie Clover, Wild Bergamot, Blazing Star species, and Milkweeds for summer and Goldenrods and Asters for fall. These are just examples, not the only species visited by these bees.
Mining Bees (Andrena) are ground-nesting medium-sized bees that are active primarily in the spring, so including spring blooming wildflowers – trees and shrubs too – is important when thinking about creating a welcoming home for these species. Mining bees are non-aggressive and their stinger can’t penetrate human skin! A number of mining bees are specialists and depend only on certain native species for pollen and/or nectar sources.
Spring-blooming plants for the garden that support mining bees include Bloodroot, Wild Geranium*, Jacob’s Ladder*, Violets*, Large-flowered Bellwort, Golden Alexanders*, Serviceberries, Viburnums, American Bladdernut and Dogwoods. Several of these species (*) support different specialist types of mining bees. See Invite Mining Bees to Your Garden by Planting Their Favorite Plants.
Small Carpenter Bees (Ceratina) are easy to attract to your garden and support. They are called small carpenter bees not because they drill in wood but because they nest in the stems of native plants by excavating the pith in the center of the stem. As with other native bees they need a continuous supply of nectar and pollen so it is important to include blooming plants from early spring through fall. Small carpenter bees are also easy to identify because of their color; most are a metallic blue or blue green. Stems that are vertical or almost vertical are preferred nesting locations. Small carpenter bees are one of the reasons you should not clean up your garden completely in the fall. Leave stems standing at about 12-18” tall.
Recommended plants for small carpenter bees include hepatica, Bloodroot, Wild Geranium, Foxglove Beardtongue, Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, Vervain, Stiff Goldenrod and asters.
I hope this helps you start a list of future enhancements you want to add to your garden or gives you a good pat on the back for what you’ve already accomplished! For more reading check out these references, and thank you for all you do in your gardens to support pollinators!
Heather Holms website: Explore Plant Lists and Posters, Featured Author Articles, Plant Lists and Posters. Excellent website! Also, check out the books listed below.
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, The Simple Truth: We Can’t Live Without Them.
Smithsonian Magazine, 5/18/2018, How to Protect Your Local Pollinators in 10 Easy Ways.
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Center for Pollinator Research, What Are Pollinators and Why Do We Need Them?
Books that I have found helpful include:
Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. Heather Holm. 2018 Pollination Press, LLC
Pollinators of Native Plants – Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects With Native Plants. Heather Holm. 2018 Pollination Press, LLC
The Bee-friendly Garden. Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn. 2016. Ten Speed Press
Victory Garden for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees. Lori Weidenhammer. 2016. Douglas and McIntyre, Ltd.