Building the buzz: creating bee-friendly gardens & landscapes

Photo: Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

Avery Yale-Kamila

Whether a rural homestead or a tiny urban lot, the most attractive gardens and landscapes buzz with bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators.

Creating a landscape inviting to pollinators adds interest and action while providing a much-needed lifeline to critical species struggling to survive. It’s something all of us can do to help domesticated honeybees and native pollinators, whose numbers have declined sharply due to a host of suspected factors, including loss of habitat, diseases and pesticides.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maine is among the states hardest hit by honeybee die-off with more than 60 percent of the state’s honeybees dying between spring 2014 and spring 2015. The national average loss was 42 percent.

In addition to the well-known honeybee (which is a European immigrant), Maine is home to at least 270 species of native bees, according to the University of Maine.

“Pollinator gardens are so easy and exciting to do and you do see a difference,” says Sharmon Provan, a horticulturalist at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. “You’ll be starting to attract those pollinators and beneficial insects such as ladybugs. Everybody loves ladybugs and ladybugs love aphids.”

Experts such as Provan agree that providing shelter year round and supplying water and food from early spring through late fall are essential to attracting and supporting native pollinators and their honeybee cousins.

According to landscape designer David Homa, who owns Post Carbon Designs in Otisfield, a landscape that is a little less manicured is most friendly to pollinators. “If your yard has little areas of chaos—such as a pile of sticks or ground cover—these areas offer the most diverse and viable habitats.”

Undisturbed and unmanicured patches of landscape provide cover and shelter for insects. In the spring, homeowners can spare some of the dandelions, chicory and clover from the lawn mower, Homa says, to aid pollinators, “by providing a source of pollen favored by bees.” In the fall, homeowners can expand pollinator habitat by leaving leaf litter on the ground and not cutting back perennials until spring.

Pollinator food is the pollen and nectar of blooming trees and plants, and insects need to eat whenever it is warm enough to be active.

Both Homa and Provan recommend planting a diversity of plants (with varied bloom colors) and staggering the bloom times. Homa points to early spring and late fall as particularly crucial times to plan for blooms, recommending daffodils, crocus and coltsfoot for early season blooms and Maximilian sunflower and anise hyssop for late season blooms.

Since native bees rely on native plants, experts recommend adding these to the landscape and allowing the natives already there – such milkweed and asters – to thrive.

By surrounding our homes with pesticide-free plants and providing habitat and water, we lend a hand to the struggling pollinators. In return, we are rewarded with a beautiful, lively and productive property.

*This article excerpted from a longer piece that ran in the 2016 Spring edition of the Green & Healthy Maine HOMES magazine.

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