Bumblebee landing on mountainmint

10 Easy Ways to Attract Native Bees

A major aspect of sustainable landscaping is supporting wildlife. Take some simple steps to create habitat for native bees, make your property more inviting to other pollinators, and make it more appealing for humans too!

1. Use native plants

Some of our native bees will use many different plants to collect pollen and nectar. These bees are called generalists. Other bees, called specialists can only use specific plants. Some specialist bees even require specific floral oils or fats for building their nests, which they get from specific native plants. For example, bees of the Macropis genus can get nectar anywhere, but they require pollen from loosestrife flowers to feed their larvae.

Summersweet Clethra (Clethra alnifolia) attracts many native bees including this green sweat bee
Green Sweat Bee on Summersweet Clethra (Clethra alnifolia)

2. Add flowers of different shapes

There are approximately 4,000 different species of bees native to North America. They range in many different colors and sizes. Even the methods they use for collecting pollen and nectar can range from one species to another.  To create bee habitat for as many species as possible, have a wide variety of flower shapes and sizes. Include native trees and shrubs as well as perennials. Although some flowers may not be showy to us, they may be just what the bees need.

Bumble bee approaching the tubular flower of Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Bumble bee approaching tubular flower of Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

3. Include flowers of different colors

Not only does it make for a beautiful and vibrant garden, planting flowers of many different colors attracts many different types of bees.  Flower colors found to attract native bees the most are blue, violet, purple, white, and yellow. Many native plants naturally bloom in those colors, which makes it that much easier when selecting.

4. Add flowers for different seasons

Ensure bees have the pollen and nectar all year by using plants that bloom at different times. Extend the season even longer with late blooming plants such as Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius or Symphyotrichum oblongifolius). You’re likely to find the cultivars ‘October Skies’ or ‘Raydon’s Favorite’.  This is one of the last perennials you’ll find blooming and because of that, it is abuzz with bees of all shapes and sizes late into October and even November. For early bloomers, spring ephemerals provide flowers before trees even leaf out.

The combination of aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius) and Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) provides late-season flowers for bees and a beautiful color combination in a garden.
Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius) and Bluestar (Amsonia hubricthii)

5. Plant flowers in masses

Having a large group of flowers is more likely to attract bees than small pockets spread across a large area. Consider mixing flower colors and sizes within the groupings. This will increase beauty and diversity, as well as attracting different bee species.

A mixed perennial bed includes masses of flowers of different shapes and colors and is great habitat for native bees.
Masses of flowers in perennial bed

6. Leave dry flowers standing over winter

The soft or hollow pith within many perennial stems is excellent winter bee habitat. Solitary female bees lay their eggs in this protective casing, creating separate brood cells for each egg. Depending on the species, a bee may create anywhere from one to sixty cells. She also provides food in each brood cell called bee bread or pollen balls, for when the young hatch.

7. Reduce mowing

Many native bees are ground nesters. Although they may not be picky about what covers the ground they are nesting in, lawn mowers can kill bees. By reducing mowing, bees are less likely to be chopped by machines. Use strategies such as releasing turfgrass and installing meadows. Convert lawn into plantings of perennials, shrubs, and trees, and create more pollen and nectar sources for our bees.

Flowers grow through grass in a designed lawn at Chanticleer to add beauty and provide habitat for bees and other pollinators.
Designed lawn at Chanticleer Garden

8. Leave areas of bare ground

Considering that almost 70% of native bees are ground-nesters, allowing some open ground makes it easier for these bees to make their home. Native bees prefer a well-drained soil, preferably with southern exposure. Light layers of leaf mulch instead of wood mulch also allow for ground nesting native bees.

9. Allow dead trees and stumps to remain

Some bees prefer to nest in old beetle holes left in dead wood. Fallen logs, stumps, and standing dead trees (snags) are all opportunities for bees. They can also be beautiful. If you do not have dead wood on your site, consider making or buying nesting blocks or stem bundles for bees.

Old stump adds interest to garden bed and provides habitat for native bees
Old stump adds interest to garden bed

10. Reduce pesticide use

Bees are tiny creatures that are highly susceptible to chemical toxins. If possible, eliminate pesticide use completely. If you find the need to reach for pesticides, do so extremely carefully and always read the label. Try to make applications when plants aren’t in bloom and in the morning before bees are active. Use large granules instead of fine dusts or sprays. And instead of broadcasting a pesticide over a large area, use it only where needed.

Start with any number of these steps and add more over time. It is easy to create bee habitat and the return is greater than we can imagine.

For more information on native bees (and there’s plenty out there!) visit some of these excellent resources, or contact us.

Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Bees
Pollinator Partnership: Stressors Affecting Bees (both honey and native)
The Xerces Society: Pollinator Conservation