Bee-friendly gardens can help save the species



Bees are pulling a disappearing act. Honeybees are vanishing from their hives. Bumblebee numbers have crashed so radically that some species are believed extinct. Even native solitary bees are in decline. Food supplies dependent upon pollinators are threatened.


But gardeners can help.


There is no single explanation for what is causing the pollinator losses, said Matt O’Neal, an associate professor of entomology at Iowa State University.


“There are multiple sources of stress,” he said. “There are your basic pests, also pathogens like viruses, pesticide exposure and land use practices reducing the kinds of forages bees can feed on. It looks like a combination of all those.”


You don’t have to become a beekeeper to restore or boost bee populations. Here’s a look at what you can do:


• Plant flowers and create green spaces, especially in urban areas; leave patches of bare soil, rocks and brush piles for ground-dwelling native bees; and add caterpillar host plants.


• Install bee hotels around the yard by drilling holes in wood blocks and creating reed or bamboo bundles.


“Another thing you can do is plant woody plants (elderberries, raspberries, sumac) with branches that have soft insides,” said Mace Vaughan, a pollinator program director with The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore. “Grow these shrubs up and then cut them back to expose the stems. Carpenter and mason bees will nest in them.”


• Eliminate or change the way you apply pesticides. Don’t use them on plants that are blooming. Apply them at night when bees are less active. Rethink the use of herbicides, which reduce pollinator food sources by removing flowers from the landscape.


• Add signage to advertise the presence of pollinators. Bees often range several miles from their hives or nests. Place pollinator habitat signs around pastures, community gardens and parks to promote conservation.

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