Do you know how to attract bees to your garden? We all should be doing our part to save these creatures since they are in steep decline over recent years. Bees are one of the most important little creatures on our planet. They are needed for our survival almost as much as water.  The Xerces Society, a non-profit wildlife group, says that 1 in 3 mouthfuls of our food and drink require bees.

Bees are some of the most amazing insects on the earth.  There are about 20,000 different species in the world. They are considered to be beneficial because they pollinate our crops and plants. They live on all continents except Antarctica.

Bees are one of the most important insects in the world! Without bees, our population could actually diminish! It is important that we learn all we can from the bees and about them. It is also important that we attract bees and protect their colonies every chance we get! In this post, you will learn all about bees, where they are from, what you can do to help them thrive, and what plants help attract them.

Bees pollinating flowers in the garden

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Native Bees

There are over 4,000 species of bees native to North America. 70% of these bees are ground nesters and 30% are wood nesters. Almost all native bees live alone, not in colonies as you may think.

Native bees pollinate more efficiently than honeybees. There are more than 150 food crops in the United States that are pollinated by bees alone. Tomatoes will bear larger fruit because the larger bumblebees will shake more pollen than the wind can. Pumpkins and squash also prosper better by bee pollination.

Why do bees pollinate our plants? Nectar is sugar to the bees. And sugar is the main source of energy. The pollen provides the necessary protein and fats that bees need. So it is simple. The bees help the flowers and the flowers help the bees.

Pollination from a bee

Types of Native Bees

Bumblebees: These are the largest of the native bees. They make their nest in the ground or in trees. Bumblebees are considered very social.

Mason Bees: Also called “orchard bees”, these creatures are usually black, metallic blue, or green. Mason bees use mud to pack their eggs into hollow branches. They will easily adapt to a man-made nesting box. These bees usually emerge in the early spring.

Mining Bees: Mining bees look like a skinnier version of the honey bee, but have longer wings. They are ground nesters. These bees are known best for pollinating fruit trees and emerge early in the year.

Squash Bees: These small bees are black and yellow and are most commonly found in pollinating cucumbers, squash, and pumpkin blossoms. They are also ground nesters and they emerge in early summer.

Sweat Bees: It is easy to identify these bees by how small they are and by their metallic backs. These bees live alone and emerge early and late in the year.

A blue mason bee
Blue mason bee

Honey Bees

Honey bees live in colonies in almost every part of the world. Within these colonies are the queen, the worker, and the drones. The queen and the drones are all female but only the queen can reproduce. The workers are all male.

Each member of the colony has a specific task or job. These insects work together for the best interest of the colony. Honey bees live in a nest that is usually built within a hollow tree or hangs from a tree branch. This nest is called a hive, and each hive can house more than 80,000 bees.

Swarm of honeybees
Swarm of Honeybees

The Honey Bees Body

A bee’s body has a lot in common with the bodies of other insects. Much of it is covered in an exoskeleton made from small, movable plates of chitin. A bee’s body is also covered in lots of fuzzy, branched hair, which collects pollen and helps regulate body temperature. The body also has three sections — the head, the thorax, and the abdomen.

On its head, a bee has two sensory antennae. It also has five eyes — three simple eyes, or ocelli, and two compound eyes. The compound eyes are made of lots of small, repeating eye parts called ommatidia. In each compound eye, about 150 ommatidia specialize in seeing patterns. This allows bees to detect polarized light — something human beings cannot do.

A bee’s two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs connect to its thorax. The wings are extremely thin pieces of the bee’s skeleton. In many species, the front wings are larger than the back wings. A row of hooks called hamuli connects the front and rear wings so they beat together when the bee is flying.

Honeybee
Honeybee

The Bees Venom

A bee’s venom contains several substances that destroy cells. These include peptides and enzymes that break through and destroy the layer of fats lining each cell. The venom also destroys the skin’s mast cells, which are part of the body’s immune system. This releases histamine, which encourages blood vessels to dilate and allows immune cells to reach the sting site faster and neutralize the venom.

However, in people with bee sting allergies, this process releases too much histamine. The blood vessels’ dilation response is extreme. They can no longer do their part in regulating blood pressure. As a result, blood pressure drops rapidly, and cells stop receiving oxygen. This type of anaphylactic shock also causes swelling and spasms and can lead to death.

Bee stinger
Bee stinger

What Do Bees Do?

The workers will clean the hive, collect pollen, feed the colony, and take care of the offspring. The only job of the drone is to mate with the queen. The only job of the queen is to simply lay eggs. These jobs are understood and not one single bee will stray from its duties for its entire lifetime. That’s some true collaboration and team effort! Bees make honey to feed their young so they have something to eat during the winter.

As bees go from flower to flower gathering pollen, a small amount is rubbed from their bodies and deposited on the flowers they visit. This loss of pollen is significant, for it often results in the cross-pollination of plants. The practical value of bees as pollinators is enormously greater than the value of their honey and wax production.

Worker Bee
Worker Bee

Bees Defense

Only females can sting. They carry venom in a sac that is attached to their stinger. The stinger is actually part of the female’s reproductive organs. A queen uses this reproductive part to lay eggs and sting. Females that are sterile can’t lay eggs, therefore, they only sting.

A honey bee that is away from the hive foraging for nectar or pollen will rarely sting, except when stepped on or roughly handled. They will actively seek out and sting when they perceive the hive to be threatened. They are often alerted to this by the release of attack pheromones.

Honey Bee Hive
Honey Bee Hive

Making a Habitat To Attract Bees

There are a few ways to make a habitat, or nesting site, for the bees. One way is to build a simple wooden frame, filling the inside with dirt or sand, and placing a few rotted logs on top. Placing this structure close to pollinating plants will help.

Another option for a bee habitat is to drill holes on the south-facing side of a log, stump, or fence post. The holes can be of various sizes ranging from 3/32 to 5/6 of an inch in diameter. Just make sure you drill the holes at an angle so water can’t run into the bottom.  Mason bees and other wood-nesting bees prefer this habitat.

A third option is an insect hotel. The is an upright rectangular box filled with hollow bamboo sticks. A lot of conservation sites use these types of boxes to attract bees.

Insect Hotel

Another option is by using stacked pallets and placing logs throughout the structure with holes drilled in them. This is like a larger version and slightly more natural than an insect hotel.

The last option requires a more expensive endeavor and that is to start beehives or houses in your backyard. This is becoming a more popular trend lately.

Keep in mind when placing a bee habitat that the female will usually nest within 1,000 feet of the flowers that they will pollinate. Bees also prefer the sun over shade and minimal wind.

Plant Choices To Attract Bees

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing what plants to grow when attracting bees. Native bees prefer native plants.

They also prefer flowers with single rows of petals. This is because they can more easily pollinate a flower without having to get around too many petals. Also, flowers with a single row of petals provide more nectar for the bees.

Color also makes a difference to the bees. Bees seem to be more attracted to flowers that are blue, purple, yellow, and white over other colors.

Flowers That Attract Bees

The following flowers are preferred by native bees:

  • Bachelor Button                        Coreopsis
  • Cosmos                                        Echinacea
  • Larkspur                                      Foxglove
  • Poppy                                           Hollyhock
  • Sunflower                                    Lambs Ear
  • Zinnia                                            Bee Balm
  • Alyssum                                       Alliums
  • Aster                                             Russian Sage
  • Geranium                                     Cotton
  • Poppies                                        Rhododendron
  • Clover                                           Willow
  • Lupine                                          Wild Lilac
  • Yarrow                                          Black-Eyed Susan
  • Hyssop
Bees on flowers

Vegetables That Attract Bees

The following vegetables are known to be favorites:

  • Artichoke
  • beans
  • cucumbers
  • peas
  • squash
  • pumpkins
Bee on squash plant
Bee on a squash plant

Herbs That Attract Bees

The following herbs are favorites:

  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Comfrey
  • Coriander
  • Dandelion
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Lavender
  • Clover
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Marjoram
  • Globe Thistle
Bee on Thistle
Bee on Thistle

Fruits That Attract Bees

The following fruits will attract native bees:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Currants
  • Melons
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberry
  • Citrus
  • Plums
  • Pears
Bee on fruit tree blossom

Knowing more about native bees and their habitats, and understanding what plants that bees are attracted to, you can now attract bees to your vegetable garden or herb garden.

If every gardener provided a flourishing environment for the bees, just think how much we could help restore their population again.

Did You Know

  • The purpose of making honey is to feed their young through the winter.
  • Smoke calms bees. So beekeepers can collect the honey from the hives.
  • They see all colors but red.
  • Killer bees can chase a person for over 1/4 of a mile once aggressive.
  • Certain species lose part of their abdomen after stinging and die because of it.
  • Bumblebees and Carpenter Bees can sting more than once.
  • The honeybee’s wings flap over 11,000 times a minute.
  • If you jump in the water to escape a swarm of killer bees, they will stay and wait for you to come out.
  • A queen can lay between 600 and 1500 eggs per day during her 3 to 4-year lifetime.
  • Honeybees can fly up to 15 mph.
  • A Typical hive can produce up to 400 lbs of honey per year.
  • Out of 20,000 species, only 4 make honey.
  • Honey is the only food made by an insect that is eaten by man.
  • The toxin in venom is called melittin and may cure HIV.
Honeybees
Honeybees

Beehive Live Cam

Explore offers a live beehive cam on its website. It is fascinating to see all those hundreds of bees so busy working for the best interest of the hive! You can watch the live cam anytime here.

There are so many things we can learn about bees. They are hard workers and diligent. They work hard to pollinate flowers to provide honey. Are you interested in learning how to attract bees to your yard and gardens?

1 Comment

  1. Good information. We do need the bees for our gardens to flourish.

    Thanks for sharing this at the Sunday Sunshine Blog Hop 51

    Laurie

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