Honeybees are an indicator species. What does that mean? It means that if the honeybee population keeps mysteriously declining, the human race will be right behind them, dying of starvation. No honeybees for pollination, no food. Fortunately everyone can make it easier for the honeybees to thrive, just by planting more flowers and using fewer chemicals. In fact, improving the honeybee’s life will improve yours at the same time.
Honeybees are active from very early in the spring until late fall, gathering pollen to keep the hive happy and healthy through the winter. The honey that we love to spread on our toast is the “extra” produced by this effort. When you are planting a garden or even an empty roadside or field for the bees, you want to make sure your “all you can carry” pollen restaurant is open for business from early spring until the first frost in the fall.
The earliest pollen for bees comes from trees and shrubs. Early blooming trees such as serviceberry and redbud are a good source of pollen. In fact, filling your environment with flowering trees like the tulip poplar, sourwood and fruiting trees is a wonderful gift to our environment. Early blooming shrubs such as honeysuckle bush and mahonia are also a favorite of spring bees.
By the time the mahonias have bloomed out it is warm enough for the flower garden to pitch in to fill the bee tasting menu. An easy addition to roadside or fields is to add plenty of pink or scarlet clover for an early and prolific bloom. Add Queen Anne’s lace, purple coneflower and black-eyed Susans and you have a year long source of pollen and lovely bouquets for your home. I also am fond of bee balm, in several colors, crocosmia (a hummingbird favorite as well) and members of the hollyhock family. Add in easy to grow annuals like larkspur, love-in-a-mist and poppies, and you have both year round color and year round bee food. The best thing about all of these plants is that they are easy to grow. Just get them started and stand back.
Now that Asheville is an official Bee City, it’s time for all of us to plant every open empty space with as many bee foods as possible.
Remember, the bee life you are saving may save a child’s life in the next generation. Do we need more of an excuse than that?
Come to think of it, do we really need an excuse to plant more flowers? I don’t!
betty sharpless is a professional free-lance gardener who uses her job as an excuse to “test” new perennials in her own bee friendly garden…