My 85 year old neighbor called me out over last week’s blog. Initially I was crushed because she is always my biggest fan, but once I got past ego, I had to admit that she was right.
I dropped a problem in my reader’s laps — disappearing bumble bees —and then just left it there. I offered no solutions, nothing for the reader to follow up on. This week I intend to change that because there definitely are ways to protect bumblebees and help them become regular visitors in your garden.
According to the Xerces Society, one of the easiest tricks to attract bumblebees is to adjust your color palette. Researchers have recently discovered that bumblebees do not see the color red. Red blossoms appear as green, blending into the surrounding foliage. Reserve red for your hummingbirds and butterflies; plant broad swathes of blues, purples and yellows for bumblebees.
Like many pollinators, single blooms are much easier for bumblebees to access nectar. Don’t be afraid however, to add bell-shaped blossoms and blooms on stalks to the garden. Depending on the species, bumblebees have tongues of varying length so they can successfully forage from a variety of flower shapes.
In addition to color and shape, pay attention to the bloom season. It’s crucial that bumblebees— and other pollinators—have a dependable food source both in the early months of spring when blooming plants are few and far between (Somewhat surprisingly, dandelions are a sought after spring meal.) and the late weeks of fall as cold temperatures take their toll on flowers.
Because they co-evolved with our native bumblebees, native plant species, particularly perennial ones, are not only preferred by bumblebee, they are a healthier choice for pollinator gardens. Whenever possible, select heirloom varieties. Newer hybrids
are bred to be more attractive or hardier, but have often had accessible nectars reduced in the process. Hybrids are simply not as healthy for bumblebees, especially in the critical life cycle periods of early spring and late fall. In the spring, Queens are gearing up to get their colonies going. In the fall, they are bulking up to prepare for months of hibernation.
To help control their body temperatures, bumblebees like butterflies, need a consistent supply of water and mud throughout the hot, summer months. Since they tend to locate water by smell rather than sight, water that has an earthy, slightly brackish smell is easiest for them to find than crystal clear offerings. Bird baths are usually too deep and don’t have a safe, natural resting place. A shallow saucer with pebbles and a bit of mud is a bumblebee’s ideal spa!
An area of yard debris is another must for inviting bumblebees and other pollinators to your yard. Piles of leaves, sticks and yard waste become safe hiding places both for nesting sites and for cool resting spots during the heat of a summer day. While we consider dead trees a blight on out landscape, bumblebees see them as high rise luxury villas in the best neighborhood in town!
Most pollinators flit quickly from bloom to bloom, stopping only briefly to sip nectar. Then, they are off to their next stop. Bumblebees seem to live life at a much more leisurely pace. They hover, as if casing the place, and then stop for a refreshing drink before moving on. If the tasks of the day prove to be too much for them, an exhausted bumblebee may find a comfortable garden stop, like the petals of a nearby flower, on which to curl up and rest on.
Finally, eliminating the use of chemical pesticides, especially the systemic ones in the neonicotinoids classification is a necessity in protecting all pollinators, especially bumblebees. Systemic pesticides remain active and highly toxic in the cells of the plant for months after application. Pollinators are at risk of death simply by landing on a treated plant.
https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pollinators/documents/pesticide_list_final.pdf links to a pdf of products containing neonicotinoids.
It would have been so much easier for my ego to toss my neighbor's comment aside and simply start writing about a new, fresh topic. I'm truly grateful that I didn’t. By taking the opportunity to dig just a little deeper, I learned some solid, specific ways to bring bumblebees back to the garden. Join me next time as we complete this series by looking at a variety of bumblebee approved native plants to add to your garden See you then.