Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flower Attracting Bees are the Pollinators of Garden

Ninety percent of the world's crops are pollinated by insects especially bees. Bees are attracted to colorful flowers, but what keeps them coming back is pollen and nectar. If they find neither one in a flower, no matter how colorful, they'll move on to another plant.

Natural bee magnets include flowers such as asters, bee balm, butterfly weed, catnip, clover, common milkweed, cosmos, goldenrod, purple coneflower, sedum, sunflower and yarrow. They're also attracted to herbs, such as mint, oregano, chives, rosemary, thyme and sage, and the flowers on blueberry bushes as well as redbud, apple and cherry trees.

There are more than 3,500 species of solitary bees in North America, and these efficient pollinators do most of the pollinating of crops and gardens. Just like us, native bees need a place to live, especially in winter. The spring rains and increase of wildflowers could lead to an increase of bees in the area. Bees increase pollination of flowers and also provide crop genetic diversity and cross-pollination of crops and flowers.

The bees we notice in spring are always large because those are the new queens, the only ones that survive the winter, and they’re out foraging for nourishment from early spring wildflowers, as well as looking for a place to start a hive. For the home gardener, a similar avoidance of pesticides, even in the lawn (bees appreciate flowering lawn weeds like clover and dandelions), and a little tolerance for untidiness can go a long way toward helping our local bees thrive.

But few people realize that bumblebees and other native bees are in trouble. And the native bees are valuable pollinators of both wildflowers and agricultural crops. Researchers have estimated that native bees provide about $3 billion worth of pollination services in the United States. That’s in addition to the work of honeybees. Bumblebees are particularly adept at pollinating tomatoes, peppers, and cranberries, because of what entomologists dub “buzz pollination.”