Buzzing in the Backyard
In September 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that, for the first time ever, it was placing seven species of bees on the endangered species list. Not ten days into the new year, it announced yet another addition: the rusty-patched bumblebee. In its statement, it noted that the bumblebee’s population has declined 87% in just two decades, leaving it “balancing precariously on the brink of extinction.”
Across the United States, bee populations are under enormous pressure from pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change – three factors that feel hard to overcome on the local level. Yet there is something very concrete we can do: turn our own yards into safe havens for bees and other pollinators. Here are seven ways to get started.
1. Grow bee-friendly plants and trees.
These include native wildflowers and other flowering fruits, vegetables, and herbs. A good first step is to walk around your neighborhood and observe which plants bees are attracted to. You can also check in at your local plant nursery or arboretum. For a list of pollinator-friendly plants for each region, click here.
2. Plant wisely
By grouping plants together, you make it easier for bees and other pollinators to locate them – at least one square yard of a plant is ideal. If you don’t have that kind of space, a well-stocked planter or window box will do. Another way to keep bees coming back is to plant flowers with long blooming cycles or successive blooms. And of course, no pesticides!
3. Provide water
Bees, like all living things, need water. Almost any shallow water source is good, although water gardens with floating plants and rocks for bees to perch on have met with the most success.
4. Learn to love weeds
If they flower, they’re your friend. That includes dandelions and clovers, goldenrod and milkweed. In fact, one of the best things you can do is pick up one of those dandelions when they are going to seed and blow on it—a favorite activity for kids!
5. Build a bee hotel
Contrary to the stereotype of bees as vicious swarmers, most native species – which also happen to be the best pollinators – are solitary, with small stingers. And those species won’t be attracted by hive boxes, but by “bee hotels,” consisting of hollow tubes where they can be close, but separate. Discover how to build a basic hotel here.
6. Keep bees
The next step up from bee hotels is good, old-fashioned beekeeping. And again, it’s not as dangerous as it may seem. This guide provides a wealth of tips on how to keep bees, even in urban and suburban areas, by following some basic safety rules: a fence to raise the bees’ flight paths, a water source (see point #3), and swarm prevention by providing colonies with young queens and bait hives.
7. Prevent stings
Basic precautions can make your yard a haven for bees while preventing unnecessary stings. These include covering trash cans and food containers, cleaning up garbage and animal feces, wearing close-toed shoes, and avoiding bright colors and floral prints – let the bees find the flowers, not you!
Turning your space into a sanctuary can help restore habitat loss for bees and other pollinators while at the same time bringing color and life to your backyard. And best of all, you’ll be doing your part to bring our endangered bees back from the brink of extinction.
Help the bees in your own backyard with SCA’s free Guide to Pollinator Gardening
- Bumblebees vs. Honeybees: What’s the Difference, and Why Does it Matter?
- How to Start a Butterfly Garden in Your Backyard
- How to Make Seed Balls and Help Spread Pollinator Habitat
- Pollinator Puppet Show
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bees
- The Importance of Butterfly Gardening
- 5 Cool Facts About Seed Balls