Help Preserve Our Native Bees

Ron Dudley
Frederick County Master Gardener

Many of us are aware of the European Honey Bee’s problems with colony collapse and the resulting impacts on food production. What is less known is the simultaneous reduction in native bee populations!

Helping native bees survive is essential to the continued well-being of the fruits, vegetables and flowering plants we all depend on for life. The Native Bees benefit us all because of the valuable services they provide to the environment and to our farms, forests, and gardens.

The honey bee was imported from Europe in the early 1600s and as remarkable as it is does not know how to pollinate native plants like tomatoes or eggplants. Additionally, honey bees do very poorly in pollinating other native crops like pumpkins, cherries, blueberries and cranberries. These crops depend, in at least a large part, on native bees for pollination.

It is estimated by the USDA that 250 female orchard mason bees pollinate apple and cherry trees as effectively as 50,000 honey bees. Additionally, when native bees interact with managed honey bees, the resulting pollination rate can increase yield by five-fold.

What can we do, as backyard gardeners, to help preserve our native bees?

  1. Provide plantings to attract bees:
  2. Provide nesting environments for native bees:
    • About 60 percent of native bees are ground nesting and require direct access to soil. Clear a 3x3 foot spot in your garden down to the soil for bees to burrow in, it should be in a well-drained area with direct sun.
    • Wood nesting bees are fond of pithy twig or vine centers, rotting wood and existing cavities in wood. So leave a few dead branches on trees or shrubs, drill holes in stumps of dead trees
    • Bumble bees are more generalist in their nesting and will nest in old rodent holes, hollow tree limbs or trunks or even in a pile of leaves. Just leave these in your garden for the bees to use.
    • We can augment natural nesting sites by providing drilled wooden blocks, PVC pipes with straws inside, or bundles of bamboo hung in a tree.
    • Visit the USDA WEB Site for more information on providing nesting sites for native pollinators:
  3. Provide clean water:
    • Place a stone in your birdbath, which breaks the surface of the water, to provide bees and butterflies access to water.
  4. Use Integrated Pest Management:
    • Emphasis must be on a thoughtful, educated approach to chemical use to control garden pest (insects and weeds), and to the reduction and ultimate elimination of their use.

Native Bees help enrich and sustain our lives. Anything we do to help bees will also help our other beneficial pollinators and the plants that depend on them. A little help for our smallest creatures can help conserve a whole ecosystem!

Other articles related to bees:

Visit the U.S. Forest Service site for more information on our Native Bees.

Read other articles on birds, wildlife & beneficial insects

Read other articles by Ronald Dudley