Planning Your Yard with Bees in Mind
Winter is the perfect time for garden dreaming. You can stay warm inside with a cup of tea and a few books for inspiration before the flurry of spring activity begins. In recent years, many people have become more aware of the importance of bees and are looking to create spaces in their yard that help support these critters. Below are a few key elements to consider when planning your space.
All bees require regular water for survival and need a source within close range of their hive or nesting site. You can get as creative as you’d like, but a simple bird bath or shallow dish filled with water will do the trick. Any water element must have a few rocks or other study objects (marbles can be pretty!) to act as islands for the bees to stand on while they drink. Place the water somewhere in the open but not too hot and be sure to refresh it every day or so to avoid build-up of scum and debris.
Of course, flowering plants are crucial for any supportive habitat as the pollen and nectar are the bee’s only source of food. Beds don’t necessarily need to be placed right next to nesting sites. As long as they are within 50m of each other, this is a short enough distance for even the smallest of bees to travel.
Beds or containers should be placed in open, sunny areas of your space where bees travel most frequently. If all you have is shade, not to worry, a good patch of flowers will still attract a few bees and other pollinators. Plan for big blocks of plantings for each variety, these are easier for the bees to see and pollinate. If you have the space, at least a meter in diameter is best.
A variety of nesting locations can be created in order to accommodate a range of bee species.. An undisturbed patch of land on a sunny southern slope is a great spot to incorporate some well-draining sandy soil for ground-nesting species to tunnel into. Leave it only sparsely planted with a few small rocks for basking. You will notice if you have bees by the small ant hill-like domes at the entrance to their tunnel.
Artificial nests can be placed around your yard to accommodate wood-nesting species. These are best located facing east or southeast so the nest can be warmed by the rising sun but be sheltered from afternoon heat and strong winds. Nests should be fixed to a clear landmark, like the side of a house, tree or fence post, that the bees can easily navigate too. Plan to place nests at least a meter off the ground so they aren’t splashed with water or covered by vegetation.
If you’re planning for bumble bee nests, look for an area of your yard that is well away from regular foot traffic. These nests should be placed at ground level in an sheltered area with little direct sunlight, to avoid over-heating the nest. Some species are tree nesters and may occupy a nest placed on a fencepost or tree.
Yard ‘Waste’ and Untidy Spaces
In the wild, wood-nesting bees will lay their eggs in hollow plant stems or cavities in trees or logs created by other insects or birds. In the fall, bumble bee queens will seek out cozy nesting spaces underground or in piles of leaf litter and other plant materials. Recreating these areas in your own yard is easy…and a great excuse to be a little lazy with your yard work.
Instead of cutting back woody plant stems right to the ground, leave them a couple feet long or opt not to cut them back at all. In spring they will provide a nest for bees. Rake leaves into your garden bed, to provide soil nourishment, nutrients for bacterial and fungi, and shelter for nesting or overwintering insects.
Skip the Pesticides and Herbicides
The simple fact is that pesticides are designed to kill insects and are damaging to bees and their offspring. Herbicides, though targeting plants can still be damaging to bees. You wouldn’t eat or drink from dishes that had herbicide on them, so the same approach must be used for bees. Herbicides should never be applied to flowering plants and should only be applied in periods of dry weather, to prevent it from collecting in puddles of rainwater. The best and safest approach is to avoid all pesticides and herbicides.
The points mentioned above focus specifically on bees, though most of these elements support a wide range of wildlife. Birds will appreciate water baths and seeds from pollinated flowers, while insects and other soil-dwelling creatures will enjoy the shelter and extra nutrients from plant matter and leaf litter. We hope you will stay tuned to our newsletter throughout the year for more details about planning your yard with bees in mind. Next month, how to build nests for native bees!