The sun is out, clover runs wild, and bees of all sizes buzz about as I gaze around my lawn. A sight that may be disagreeable for some is a pleasant one for me. In part from anthropogenic causes and in part from climate change, native and managed bee populations have been in steep decline over the past decade. Bees, particularly Bumblebees, are keystone species. Without them, we would face a scarcity of agricultural crops and wild animals would face a lack of native wildflowers which produce the seeds and fruits they rely upon. In recent years, there have been national and state programs dedicated to protecting these bees. But beyond these programs, there are simple things that we can do to help save the bees at our own homes and these include modifying or incorporating flower beds and gardens, creating habitat for bees to nest, and eliminating the use of pesticides especially those that include neonicotinoids.
Anthropogenic causes such as land development, industrial agriculture, and pollution along with climate change has caused for a decrease in the biodiversity of wildflowers and trees. Bees require the diverse number of plants that are in decline for their food. In areas where green spaces are decreasing, bees rely on hopping between flower beds to get food. By increasing the floral diversity at your house, you can help the bees get food and aid in pollinating native species. You can begin saving the bees by planting a native wildflower garden in your yard. Several native species of shrubs and perennials that are favored by bees include: limber honeysuckle, wild bergamot, buttonbush, goldenrod, and asters.
A low maintenance approach to help save the bees is to plant more trees in your yard. Trees are great because they provide curb appeal to a yard, they give shade to both humans and other animals, they are easily obtainable, and let’s not forget that in the spring, trees produce hundreds of flowers that bees and other pollinators depend on for food. Several species of native trees that are particularly beneficial to bees include: Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), and Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).
One other low maintenance, cost-effective way to add floral diversity to your yard would be to mow your lawn less and to embrace clover in your yard! Many people think of clover as a nuisance weed and actively try to rid it from their lawn. Although it may not be native to New York, clover is very beneficial. Clover is nifty in that it acts as a natural fertilizer for surrounding grass because it can fix nitrogen in the ground. Nitrogen is a key element in plant fertilizers because it supports plants in obtaining energy and aids them in growing. Along with this, clover is drought resistant and can remain a vibrant lush green on even the hottest of summers. If you have pesky weeds in your lawn that you want to get rid of naturally, simply introduce White Dutch clover into your yard and as it is a very resilient plant, it can smother weeds growing nearby. Finally, what is better than seeing a sea of beautiful and fragrant white flowers when you look outside your window and knowing that the bees are thriving as a result?
Flowers provide bees with a place to visit to get food, but they also provide bees with a place to live. Many bees will make their nests in areas where flowers are nearby. We can help to save the bees by providing them with appropriate habitat to make their nests. According to Cornell University, 54% of the bees present in New York State are solitary bees meaning that these bees are ground-nesters. To supply these bees with appropriate habitat, avoid mulching your entire flower bed. Ground-nesting bees love to build their homes near their food source but they cannot dig through mulch to make them so instead, leave some portion of your garden mulch-free. Beyond the solitary bees, there are bees such as the mason bee, who make their nests in preexisting cavities. Consider making a DIY mason beehive constructed of hollow wooden tubes or purchasing one from a reputable source. With flowers and a habitat to nest in, you are helping to give the bees a sanctuary where they can live.
Now these methods described above are great ways to supply bees with necessary habitat but there is one important thing we need to keep in mind to ensure that bees are fully protected in our yards. We need to avoid using synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, especially those that contain neonicotinoids, because they are a leading cause of the bee decline. Researching the products we are using can save the bees; most products mention on the label whether they are harmful to bees or not. Contemplate using organic products instead and if you do have to spray, spray at night when bees are less active.
A simple change can make an un-BEE-lievable difference in terms of bee survival! If you are interested in saving the bees, please attempt to incorporate one of the above suggestions into your yard. One small change can aid in saving populations of native and managed bee species. If you are interested in learning more about bees, come visit the pollinator room at Audubon Community Nature Center where you can view an active beehive and talk to naturalists.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
Jennifer Seip is a Nature Education Intern at ACNC.