Bees in our bonnet – and in your landscape!

There’s been a lot of buzz about bees recently, and much of it is negative. Around the world bee populations are dying, with honeybees hit especially hard. That’s sad, but is it really a problem for people? Yes. Because bees pollinate up to 70% of our plant food sources, fewer bees could mean less availability of many types of food. Plus, bees are our partners in the landscape, so they deserve our attention, right?

One good thing we can do to help bees is plant bee-friendly landscapes. Many of the plants bees love are drought-tolerant, so that’s a plus in our semi-arid area. If you’d like to pitch in and help hard-working bees, read on about bee facts and planting a bee garden. Even one or two plants can help! For more information about the most bee-friendly plants, check out our Garden Gab column below.

Bee facts. Bees are a diverse group of insects. There are more than 1,600 native bee species in California alone. Some are social, some are solitary, and most build nests in the ground. All bees live on nectar and pollen from flowers, and all are good pollinators.

Dangers to bees. It’s now thought that systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids are a key factor in the collapse of honeybee colonies and in the reduced populations of native bees. One popular such insecticide, imidacloprid, is the main active ingredient in several popular gardening formulas available at local nurseries. In addition to chemical dangers, bees are also contending with fewer acres of habitat that have an abundance of flowering plants.

What can we do?
• Avoid pesticides and agrochemicals in your garden whenever possible. Utopic Gardens specializes in all-natural products and techniques and does not use neonicotinoids.
• Be sure to include flowering plants in your landscape throughout the year. Wild bees are partial to native plants such as California poppies, ceanothus and others. We’ve also seen bumblebees on rhododendrons, smaller bees on clover, coreopsis and godetia—the most important thing is to always have some plants in bloom. An added benefit: flowering plants can also attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other creatures to create a wildlife garden!
• Although mulch is an important tool in suppressing weeds and retaining soil moisture, try to leave patches of bare soil here and there in your garden. Native bees dig into bare soil to build their nests, and do not generally dig through mulch.
• You can also provide bees with a home. If you grow sunflowers, keep a few of the dried heads with the stems intact. Lay them down in a dry, shaded area with bare soil so that bees can use them for nests. Or construct a bee house—it’s easy to do.
• If possible, maintain a small, fresh water source, such as a birdbath, near bee-friendly plants in your garden. Both bees and birds will enjoy the water, which they need to live. Keep it high enough off the ground to protect it from household pets, and refill often to discourage mosquito growth.

Garden Gab: Bees will go for whatever’s in bloom, but they are especially partial to blue, white and yellow flowers.

The bees’ knees plant list
Bachelor’s Button
Borage (herb with edible flowers)
Blue mist
Red spike ice plant
Pride of Madeira
California poppy
Gloriosa daisy
Sunflowers (all)
Hyssop (herb)
Lamb’s ears
Lavender (all)
Oregano (herb)
Penstemon (all)
Russian sage
Salvia (all)
Spearmint (herb)
Sweet alyssum
Thyme (herb)

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