7 Unbelievably Simple Ways to Create Great Bee Habitats

7 Unbelievably Simple Ways to Create Great Bee Habitats

7 Unbelievably Simple Ways to Create Great Bee Habitats

7 Unbelievably Simple Ways to Create Great Bee Habitats7 Unbelievably Simple Ways to Create Great Bee Habitats

Author and expert gardener Elizabeth Lawrence once said, 

"The hum of bees is the voice of the garden." 

She was right. Bees are nature's hard-working heroes, transporting pollen and serving as a vital cog in the ecosystem and crop production. But honeybee cultivation often overshadows the importance of native bees. We're looking at ways homeowners can create nesting habitats for native species. We'll cover: 

  • The difference between honeybees and native species
  • How native species positively impact an ecosystem
  • Ways homeowners can create habitats for native bees, including stem-nesting bees

What are some of the differences between honeybees and native species?

Honeybees lead social lives. They cooperate. Many native bees live alone. While honeybees live in hives and colonies, native bees reside in the ground, the pith of stems, and wood.

That abandoned rodent den? Luxurious living for a native bee. As you can imagine, a solitary lifestyle means more responsibility for some native species with no quasi-social or communal structures. 

Honeybees work together. 

Their processes and logistical prowess are well documented in culture. The entire plot of the film “Bee Movie,” centers around a bee named Barry who wants more than a life of honey-making. Every honeybee holds down a job. The hive functions as one.

Native bees take those roles on solo. They've been helping native plants thrive long before honeybees arrived — most likely brought over by European settlers. For a comparison, let's look at the Leafcutter bee and honey beeThe above graphic was created using images licensed under Creative Commons and provided by linsepatron and Ivar Leidus.

leafcutter bee, which has 131 species native to North America. As previously mentioned, a honeybee hive houses each individual, and all chip in. Leafcutter bees thrive when the right materials are readily available. Often, the leafcutter bee makes a suitable home in decaying wood, gaps between stones, abandoned beetle burrows, or hollow plant stems. They need leaves or flower petals for lining nests and flowers for pollen and nectar. 

In many places across North America, their nesting season occurs in late spring and early summer, although some parts of the southwest see leafcutter bees extending nesting into the summer. These bees also rely on flowers for nectar and pollen when foraging. 

Leafcutter bees are often mistaken for honeybees. One way to differentiate the two is based on their activities and where they carry their pollen. A bee cutting or carrying oval pieces of leaves is likely a leafcutter bee. 

Leafcutter bees differ from honeybees in that they carry pollen on their abdomens rather than on their legs in pollen baskets. If you see a bee with what looks like overstuffed saddle bags on the outside of its legs, then it's most likely a honeybee. 

Native bees pollinate native plants like blueberries, cherries, and cranberries, while honeybees pollinate okra, almond, lemon trees, papaya, and watermelon plants. Unlike the honeybee, many native bee species are endangered.

Experts noted that 1 in 6 bee species is regionally extinct and more than 40 percent are vulnerable to extinction per global estimates.

How native species positively impact an ecosystemNatives excel, surpassing honeybees in crop pollination

Honeybees only increased yield in 14 percent of the crops in a study of 41 different crop systems worldwide, suggesting native species might serve as better pollinators in some systems.

Native bee species pollinate native plants well in varying conditions because they are well-adapted to their given environments. Plus, many plants require buzz pollination, when a bee species produces a vibration to release pollen. Several essential food crops are buzz-pollinated, including eggplant, tomato, blueberry, and kiwi. Add eggplant, sweet potatoes, and peppers to that list as well.

Although more than half of all bee species can buzz pollinate, honeybees cannot produce the needed vibrations, highlighting the importance of our native species.

Ways homeowners can create habitats for native bees, including stem-nesting beesProviding homes for bees, from rodent dens to stones

Considering that 70 percent of bees are ground nesting and are some of the first to begin pollinating in spring, it's essential to know how to help these bees. The remaining percent of species make their homes in cavities — the niches between stones, an abandoned rodent den, or a hollowed-out branch. 

 Consider mulching practices 

Mulch and paved surfaces reduce the availability of nesting habitat for ground-nesting bees. Compost provides a more bee-friendly mulch than wood bark. With compost, you can achieve the same weed suppression and water retention as wood bark mulch while allowing for nesting. Exercise caution when tilling. The time of year and the equipment used might harm ground-nesting bees.

 Leave Stems Standing 

When weeding in spring, it can help to not cut back down to the roots. Some stems will be needed to shade and nourish the offspring growing beneath them. When pruning, ensure you don't cut off all the dead stems, mainly if you remove the flower heads. Many species of stem-nesting bees will sleep in these hollow stems through the winter.

 Create Nesting Bundles 

Gardeners can make nesting tubes by bundling plant stems together. Hollow stems (such as those from elderberry, raspberry, blackberry, or sunflower) serve this role exceptionally well since these plants have airy centers that bees can excavate. 

These hollow stems can be tied together with twine or inserted into an untreated wooden box to keep them in place. Bee nesting tubes take advantage of nests that stem-nesting bees would make on their own.

 Provide Nesting Blocks 

Another way to attract stem-nesting bees is to make nesting blocks from untreated wood and drill holes of various diameters to create tunnels of different sizes and depths that suit different bee species. Put the blocks in a sunny, protected place in your garden, close to flowering plants to provide food sources.Support Bees with natural materials like reeds and bamboo

 Offer Natural Building Materials 

Stem-nesting bees use mud and plant fibers for their nests, so when cleaning up your garden, remember to offer a shallow dish of moist clay or mud. Natural materials such as untreated reeds, bamboo tubes, or cardboard tubes will also allow them to build.

 Avoid Pesticides 

One of the most important things you can do to make your plot bee-friendly is avoid using pesticides – in the garden or anywhere. Many insecticides are toxic to bees, including native ones, and can negatively affect or kill native populations. Instead, get savvy about non-pesticide methods of managing pests. Adopt a pollinator-friendly approach

 Provide Flowering Plants 

Stem-nesting bees need a wide selection of flowering plants that will provide nectar and pollen; plant a mix of native flowers that will give a season-long food source for bees. Provide a mix of flower shapes, sizes, and colors to attract a wide range of bee species to your garden. 
Quick Summary:

Bee Habitat Tips
1. Use compost for mulching
Replace wood bark with compost for ground-nesting bees.
2. Retain dead stems
Leave dead stems for stem-nesting bee nests.
3. Bundle hollow plant stems
Tie hollow stems for nesting tubes.
4. Drill nesting holes in wood
Create tunnels for diverse bee species.
5. Offer natural nesting materials
Provide mud, reeds, or bamboo for nest construction.
6. Avoid pesticides
Refrain from pesticide use to protect bees.
7. Plant diverse native flowers
Grow various flowers for continuous blooming.

Native bee species play a vital role in our ecosystems. As researchers continue to learn more about native species, homeowners can lend our pollinators a hand by creating habitats that are ground- and stem-nesting bee-friendly.Get expert lawn care with GreenPal's top professionals

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