We are all learning more about the benefits of pollinators, which includes scores of insects. But bees bring benefits, especially honey bees.
This spring, when our garden clubs met in Sunbury for a regional meeting, the educational exhibit for the flower show was about bees as pollinators. The exhibit had a poster “Bees in Trees” identifying several trees that support pollinating activity. We had a sheet that covered some basic facts about our food sources (crops), pollinator gardening including many flowers that span the growing season and pesticide precautions. People could take these home.
There were small seed packets for those viewing the exhibit labeled “Bee Kind seeds.” Inside was a blend of perennial flowering seeds.
There was a large chart displaying colored close-ups of the many bee species. Everyone was offered a long checklist of perennial flowers easily grown and so needed by our pollinators as food sources. We took this educational exhibit to our May plant sale at the fairgrounds, giving away even more information and seeds.
In agricultural landscape areas there is not a season-long food source. Crops may provide a few weeks of abundant food but once flowering is over, the bees must search for native plants nearby.
People who love to garden can bring a floral diversity to these pollinators. Plan to have a least three flowering plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall. In landscapes that have 15 or more flowering plants, bee diversity is maximized. This should start in the spring as bees emerge from winter dormancy needing immediate food. Worker bees visit blooms to collect nectar and pollen. Nectar is a liquid solution produced by a plant; it is about 50% water. Bees store the gathered nectar in a honey sac.
While securing nectar, bees are running into pollen grains that cling to their “hairs” as they move from flower to flower. The pollen can be rolled into wee balls and stored in a structure on the hind legs. This is taken back to the hive, but as a bee visits flowers, some of the pollen rubs off. It is so neat how the features of flowers continue to attract bees.
As gardeners, we can be so helpful to many species but especially to our honey bees. Focus on adding at least three new plants that flower. Many are native plants a natural choice but you can choose herbs, which are heavy suppliers of nectar and pollen. Here are some of the typical plants: asters; black-eyed Susans; borage; cleome; cosmos; Joe-Pye weed; goldenrod; lavender; liatris; lilac; milkweed; the mint family; monarda; penstemon; purple coneflowers; rosemary; stonecrop or sedum; thyme; violets; verbena; and zinnias.
The plants, which bloom in succession spanning the seasons, help bees increase productivity. They also contribute to bees making it through the winter, nourished by these collections of nectar and pollen that they have taken to the hives.
Bees’ service contribute to two-thirds of the world’s crop species. In the United States, we grow more than 100 crops that benefit from pollinators.
If you use honey you know its health benefits, too. All in all, we need to keep flowering plants multiplying so life is good for bees and ourselves.
Mary Lee Minor is a member of the Earth, Wind and Flowers Garden Club, an accredited master gardener, a flower show judge for the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs and a former sixth-grade teacher.
This article originally appeared on Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum: How gardeners can support bees and pollination
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