Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Year-Round Bee Garden

If you want a backyard garden producing fruits and vegetables, you want bees. Heck, you NEED bees, nature's most efficient sex surrogates. Bees (including the native bees such as solitary bees and bumblebees) as well as other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, flies and beetles move pollen from the male part of many fruit and vegetable flowers to the female part. End result? A rather exhaustive list of some of the most popular and healthy garden-grown crops. 

According to the California Master Gardener Handbook, bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Bees are the most important pollinators because they spend their life collecting pollen. So, you want them to spend their lives in your yard. But you have to build them a garden resort, first.

Here are some pollinator-attracting planting suggestions, especially to get the bees:

* Install a wide variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year with several species blooming at once. Pollinators are active at different times of year. In our yard, the bees gather at the blooming rosemary plants during the winter, when little else is flowering.

* Plant in clumps, perhaps three feet by three feet. Bunches of flowers of the same variety in the same area are more attractive to pollinators than single flowers.

* Include flowers of different shapes and colors. Bees are particularly attracted to flowers that are violet, blue, purple, white or yellow. Butterflies prefer bright red or purple. Again, plant in clumps.

* Choose natives. Many California pollinators prefer native plants.
* Plant non-hybrid flowers. Many hybrids have had their pollen, nectar or fragrance bred out of them, making them less attractive to pollinators.

* Eliminate or limit pesticides whenever possible. Pesticides can be harmful to pollinators. When a pesticide is needed, use the least toxic one.

* Provide nesting sites and food sources, such as nectar for hummingbird feeders and salt licks for butterflies.

* Pollinators need water, too. A bird bath or fountain is ideal.

California native plants that attract pollinators include California poppy, California Redbud, Lupine, Rosemary, Sunflower, Toyon, Western dogwood, Wild rose, Wild lilac (ceanothus) and White leaf manzanita. Other plants that pollinators enjoy: Agastache, Basil, Borage, Cosmos, Dicleptera, Hyssop, Lavender, Marjoram, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), Mint and Pincushion flower (Scabiosa).

Some garden references may advise you to cut off flower heads to enhance the beauty of the foliage plant (such as for lamb's ears). If your goal is to attract garden good guys, let those flower heads stay.

Finding plants to attract bees in the spring and summer is easy. Besides the plants listed above, the University of California's Urban Bee Garden has an exhaustive list of spring and summer blooming plants that will bring out the bees, especially the native bees. Be advised: the plants on that list were chosen based on their performance in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here in the valley and low foothills, the list might be a bit smaller. But go ahead, try 'em all, and see which ones make it!

That Urban Bee Garden website has tips for making your yard more attractive to native bees.

The real trick for gardeners: getting bees to spend the "off-season" at your place. Many native bees hibernate in the winter; honey bees, however, can work year round, weather long as they have sources for pollen and nectar. 

Here in the valley, these plants tend to keep their blooms, and the honey bees, during the fall and winter.

Plants To Attract Bees / Fall-Winter
Pincushion Flower
Gold Coin - Asteriscus maritimus
Coreopsis - Coreopsis tinctoria
Gaillardia - Gaillardia x grandiflora
Glossy Abelia - Abelia grandiflora

Pincushion Flower - Scabiosa columbaria
Manzanita - Arctostaphylos spp.
Lavender - Lavandula
Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis
Shrub Mallow - Lavatera maritima 'Bicolor'
New Zealand Tea Tree - Leptospermum scoparium (white and pink cvs.)
Myrtle - Myrtus communis
Blue Mist - Caryopteris x clandonensis
Euryops - Euryops pectinatus
Salvia 'Indigo Spires'
Scarlet Sage - Salvia splendens

Salvia splendens
English Ivy - Hedera helix*
* Although English Ivy is part of UC Berkeley's "Flowering plant species and their relative attraction to honey bees and native California bees in Albany and N. Berkeley" list, it is considered an invasive plant by the California Invasive Plant Council. English ivy is a threat to coastal forests and riparian areas.

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis
Euryops - Euryops pectinatus

Late Winter - Early Spring
Ceanothus- C. 'Ray Hartman', 'Julia Phelps'
California Poppy - Eschscholzia californica
Yarrow - Achillea millefolium
Pride of Madeira - Echium candicans
Penstemon - Penstemon heterophyllus
Manzanita - Arctostaphylos spp.
Salvia - S. greggii, S. leucophylla, 'Indigo Spires'
Spanish Lavender - Lavandula stoechas
Wisteria - Wisteria sinensis
Spanish Lavender in front of Alstroemeria

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