Attracting native pollinators
The big buzz....it's more than bees!
Not every gardener, no matter how genuine the concern for the bees, can provide the equipment, care and habitat for the successful support of a hive or two of honeybees. The answer for many persons is to look to strategies for becoming more familiar with our native pollinators, some of which look like bees, some like flies - all in addition to the butterflies, birds, other insects and true bugs. A true bug is defined as "a wingless or four-winged insect of the order Hemiptera, especially of the suborder Heteroptera, including the bedbug, louse, and chinch bug, having mouthparts adapted for piercing and sucking."
The National Biological Information Infrastructure website is filled with excellent photographs, educational text and highly informative links, especially about the Orchard Mason bee or mason bee, Osmia spp., which is a gentle, highly efficient, hardy spring pollinating native bee. Many persons are now creating habitats for these bees by putting up special structures, often called 'chalets' for the mason bees.
Garden catalogs promote the use of the mason bee houses for their simplicity. While this is true, there is more to attracting even the native pollinators than "hang the nest and they will come." The gardener is well advised to learn about the life cycle and needs of the bees first.
Here are some basic facts:
Mason bees are solitary but prefer to 'nest' together.
Mason bee commercially produced 'chalets' have nesting straws placed horizontally in wood blocks.
While the female have stingers they are very gentle bees and must be vigorously provoked to sting.
They are spring pollinators, which makes them effective for fruit pollination in orchards.
The bees mate, lay eggs, secure their nests and die by early July. The new brood will emerge early the next spring.
The mason bees rarely fly more than 100 yards from their nest and are generally regarded as much more efficient than the imported honeybee.
They are active in cool and wet weather.
There are a number of highly credible websites with information about insect pollinators in general and the mason bees in particular. Several of these sites can be downloaded and printed as pdf files.
Check out the following in addition to links given above:
This site has excellent basic information especially for the home gardener. Included, in addition to some good links, is a list of plants that attract the pollinators.
This is one of the primary sites for information about the mason bees, especially for those persons who want to create an inviting habitat for the bees to aid in fruit pollination. (Always check the date that material was posted on a site to be certain that the information is up to date.)
These two sites (above) are prepared by the United States Department of Agriculture with material in downloadable pamphlet form to give general information about native pollinators. They give an excellent, comprehensive tutorial on the conditions needed to foster communities of native pollinators as well as their essential work and value in the pollination of food crops.
This site has a disclaimer that the information was developed for use in North Carolina. However, the general information is accurate and applicable.
This site has links for annual plants that attract and support pollinators as well as for perennial and biennial plants for pollinators.
The Xerces Society, an advocacy group for invertebrates (cited above) also publishes excellent, user friendly books that offer help in identifying, attracting and managing native pollinator populations.