Friday, May 30, 2014

Supporting bees in backyards

Bees, the essential pollinators, need our help. Their populations are in decline in Minnesota and nationally.

Creating a haven for bees in yards and gardens is one way to rally round the bees. Five simple steps can help ensure our desire to preserve bees is matched by optimum effectiveness. Extension educators Marla Spivak, Karl Foord and Julie Weisenhorn offer these tips. 

1.      Make sure you have enough space: A minimum of a 5-by-10-foot patch for planting is best. Bees seek density of pollen. Just as humans wouldn't be interested in a berry patch that offered only one berry every few feet, bees have the same need for efficiency in their nourishment.  

2.      Choose carefully: Bees need flowering plants for nutrition. Bee balm, anise hyssop, lupine, asters, Autumn Joy sedum, sunflowers, and herbs like thyme and oregano are a few good choices. Here's a full list of the plants likeliest to attract bees:

3.      Select healthy, natural plants; keep them free of pesticides. Avoid buying plants treated with neonicotinoid and other systemic insecticides, which remain present in the leaves, pollen and nectar of the plant. Many plant pests cause only temporary, aesthetic problems that can be managed or tolerated. If you do use pesticides, read the label and follow directions. The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation offers these guidelines for buyers:

4.      Look at things differently, including what constitutes a "perfect lawn." Bees are naturally drawn to dandelions and clover; leaving them alone in your yard help benefits them greatly. Read more here:

5.       Don't let your enthusiasm for helping bees override some basic principles. Correct selection of plants based on light, type of soil and planting space is essential – plants and flowers that cannot flourish cannot help bees. Consult the Plant Elements of Design plant database at

University of Minnesota Extension has maintained an internationally recognized honey bee program since 1918. More information about bees, yards and gardens is available at:   

·         The University of Minnesota Extension Yard and Garden site

·         The University of Minnesota Extension Honeybee site

·         University of Minnesota Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability

·         University of Minnesota Extension entomologist Marla Spivak's TED talk

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