Most homeowners, and many gardeners, are unfamiliar with the vital role bees and other pollinators play in a healthy and productive garden. Simply put, pollinators, and especially bees touch our lives every day. For example, did you know that one out of every three bites of your food depends on a pollinator? That’s because about 150 crops grown in the U.S. depend on pollinators, including apples, almonds, blueberries, citrus, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins and squash.
How Pollination Works
In simplistic terms, pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to a second flower of the same species, where it can fertilize and begin the process of fruit and seed production. Although some plants can pollinate themselves, most require the help of insects, birds and other organisms — collectively referred to as pollinators. Enter our buzzing friends, bees!
If you watch a honeybee visit an apple blossom in search of nutritious nectar and pollen, you may see some of the flower’s pollen clinging to the bee’s fuzzy body. When that bee visits another flower, some of the pollen gets transferred. Good pollination results in large, healthy fruits with viable seeds. Poor pollination results in deformed fruits that often drop off before maturing.
Honeybees In Decline
According to the Pollinator Partnership, the U.S. has lost over 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies in the past 10 years. And this percentage could be even higher in Southern California counties such as Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties. Scientists believe contributing factors include parasites, diseases and exposure to pesticides. Despite this concerning, even alarming trend, those who enjoy gardening can help. Imagine if every home gardener nationwide took steps to increase food and habitat for pollinators. Collectively, we would add tens of thousands of acres for pollinators to call home! Southern California is a particularly bee-friendly region. Best of all, it’s easy and rewarding to make your landscape a pollinator haven. Here’s how:
Create diverse plantings: Different pollinators are active at different times of year, so include a variety of plants that bloom from early spring through late fall.
Plant wildflowers and native species: Because wild bees and wildflowers evolved together, you can be pretty confident that native wildflowers will provide bees with an excellent source of both pollen and nectar.
Single flowers are best: Single flowers — those with one ring of petals — provide more nectar and pollen than double flowers, in which extra petals have replaced pollen-laden anthers. Double flowers also make it more difficult for bees to reach the inner flower parts.
Choose blue, purple and yellow: Bees find blue, purple and yellow flowers most appealing. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as daisies, zinnias, asters and Queen Anne’s lace, will attract the largest variety of bees.
Flowers That Make Bees Swoon
Although there are many varieties of flowers that bees are attracted to, our busy-bee friends DO have some favorites. These include: Alyssum, Asclepias (butterfly weed), Aster, Echinacea (coneflower), Geranium (cranesbill), Monarda (bee balm), Papaver (poppies), Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), and Trifolium (clover).
Make Bees Happy by Getting Involved
Local gardening groups, native plant societies and other environmental groups all have volunteer opportunities. The Southern California Garden Club and California Garden Clubs are a couple of great resources that can offer guidance and inspiration on how to keep bees performing at full throttle.