Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Consider Native Bees When Gardening for Monarchs

Guest blog and photos by Tom Schroeder 

We all want to improve our garden habitats to increase the number of Monarch Butterflies.  We can increase the number of Native Bees while we are at it by just adding a few gardening practices.

Native Bees are small harmless creatures ranging in size from a quarter inch Miner Bee to an inch and a half Bumblebee.  They will ignore your presence in the garden and go about their business of gathering pollen and nectar for their nests.  They add beauty, interest, and pollinating services to the garden.

carpenter bees
The population of many Native Bees species have declined because of loss and degradation of habitat and pesticide overuse.  These are some of the same reasons for the decline of the Monarch Butterfly.  We can start to turn that around by improving their habitat in our yards.

Both Monarchs and Native Bees required continuous blooming flowers from April to November.  They both prefer to feed on three foot by three foot patches of the same flowers rather than scattered individual flowers. Where Bees and Monarchs differ is in the type of flowers they utilize.  Many Native Bees have short tongues and need open flower forms.  Native Bees also seek pollen for nesting and not just nectar for fuel.

Excellent Native Bee Plants on the Backyard Habitat for Monarchs plant list are: Culver’s Root for late spring; Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Wild Bergamot, and Rosinweed for the summer; Smooth and Sky Blue Aster and Rigid Goldenrod for the fall.  For Native Bees you might also try native species of early spring blooming Serviceberry and Spiderwort and summer blooming Helenium, Penstemon, Agastache, and Verbena.  Unfortunately, Milkweed does not make its pollen available to a bee and requires a long tongue to reach its nectar so it is not a very useful flower to a small bee.

It is well known that Monarch’s need milkweed plants to raise their young.  Native Bees need bare dirt.  Seventy percent of Native Bee species nest in the ground.  The other 30 percent use plant stems or beetle tunnels in wood.  In your plantings for the Monarchs, leave some bare dirt patches for the little bees to use for nesting.  Also leave a few one foot sections of some of the previous year’s plant stems upright in the garden for bee nesting.  Milkweed stems could make an excellent nesting spot for a little bee.
green sweat bees

Limit pesticide and herbicide use including not purchasing seedlings treated with neonicotinoids.  Testing has shown pollen collected by honey bees can contain up to 6 different pesticides.  Even in low concentrations, pesticides affect bee behavior in negative ways.

Monarchs and Native Bees have coexisted in habitats for thousands of years.  By improving your garden habitat for both, you will be continuing that long association. 

Tom Schroeder retired in 2015 and finally got to complete his Master Naturalist certification.  He is a long time volunteer with Kansas City Wildlands specializing in prairie plant seed collection.  He is an avid photographer and gardener with a passion for native bees.