by Matt Gibson
It is no secret that bees and plants have a symbiotic relationship: Bees feed on plants’ nectar, and in turn, the bees carry pollen from flower to flower, helping create new generations of plants. For a robust garden that entertains all sorts of visitors, create bee habitats to entice these powerful pollinators to stop by and perhaps take up residence in your yard.
There are several different kinds of bees, and which kind you prefer to attract will determine which habitats you choose to build. Unless you want to gather a swarm of honeybees and maintain a hive, you will want to build habitats for solitary bees. These shy little pollinators tend to get less media buzz than their more social relatives in hives, but they’re just as important for the ecosystem.
Attract, Create and Maintain: DIY Bee Houses
Luckily for those who wish to create bee-friendly spaces, there are easy ways to do so. A pleasant yard is going to be your first step in catching bees’ eyes. When planning and planting your garden, choose plants that fit the local plant profile: native species are a great choice for feeding the bees in your area and will also have an easier time growing than plants adapted to different zones. Bright colors attract pollinators and help to increase the biodiversity of any garden area.
Even though bees are considered solitary creatures, many still congregate together, working their way around the landscape in search of flowers to pollinate. Some bee species, such as the red mason or leafcutter bee, tend to nest in small tubes or tunnels. Don’t just drill holes into wood and expect to have made the perfect bee house, but making your own bee habitat can be fun, easy, and very affordable.
Check out this YouTube video on creating a simple bee habitat at home:
Problems with Store-Bought Bee Houses
Most store-bought bee houses are a waste of time, space, and money. Mass-produced bee houses often lack sufficient protection from the harsh elements of the weather. Some even have no solid back wall, making the contraption simply a wind tunnel that serves to kick bees out instead of lure them in. Often, these store-bought bee houses contain glass or plastic tubing, which causes condensation that can lead to fungus, mold and rot. All of these things can be particularly dangerous to the bees.
Keeping Up With Bee Houses
Gardeners who wish to attract solitary bees can simply drill some holes in surrounding tree bark, dry logs, or blocks of wood. Just make sure that the holes are at least two millimeters in diameter and no greater than 10 millimeters. Be sure to check these drilled holes to ensure their smoothness, and double check for any splinters you created while you worked. Bees will not enter if the pathway isn’t super clear, as they are afraid of messing up their wings and are wisely slow to trust a new environment. Plus, a smooth surface prevents wounding a bee.
Just drilling out a few holes in some spare wood may bring in a couple of extra pollinators to your garden area, but your work does not end there. If you create a bee house, you owe it to the bees to maintain the bee house as well. After each season, the different cells (or rooms) of your bee house should be cleaned out carefully to avoid contamination.
Attracting Bees With Plant Selection
Tiny shelters aren’t the only thing you can do to bring bees to your backyard. First of all, you want plants that have lots of nectar and pollen. The size of your garden is not what is important here. In fact, even a tiny little city garden should do the trick and bring in lots of new pollinators as long as you select the right plants. It’s no secret that bees love flowers, so why not plant lots of them? Start with some bee balm, black-eyed Susans, butterfly bush and purple coneflower. Even if you have made the perfect bee habitat and live in the right climate, bees won’t set up their home in your habitat if there is not ample plumage in the area.
The Future of Bee Conservation
Simply planting a handful of flowers that are known to attract bees is a great start, but it may not be enough to get a group of bees to settle down in your area. Ideally, if you want to attract more bees, you’ll want to get the right mix of plants to flowers, including some that bloom at different times in the year. Researchers are conducting studies to determine which flowers are the best for attracting bees and what combinations might be a good mix for increasing the bee population in a given area.
Scientists have determined that areas where lots of flowers are produced have been directly linked to bees in the area growing larger and producing more queens.
Planting more flowers is not the only thing we can do to help with bee conservation, but more research is needed before we can better understand bee life cycles and before we can really make an impact on the dwindling bee population. In order to know how to help the bee population grow, we need to figure out, for example, the resources a queen bee would need to survive a harsh winter, or which factors (aside from local fauna) determine what makes solitary bees decide to set up camp and call a certain area home over other areas.
Want to learn more about how to build bee habitats?
Ensia covers The Best Way to Make a Bee Habitat
The Pollinator Garden covers Making a Bee Hotel
The Pollinator Garden covers Create A Backyard Pollinator Habitat
National Pollinator Garden Network explains The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Written by Kelly Jacobi & Matt Gibson
Kelly Jacobi is an artist, designer, student, and patio gardener who enjoys seeing her plants thrive, and adorning her walls with pieces of art created by local artists and artisans. She is currently in pursuit of a bachelor’s of art and performance and hopes to delve deeper into her art and writing upon completion of her degree.