Wild Bees in Your Garden: Cultivate Flowers and Habitat for Pollinator Friends
by Camia Lowman
Next time you’re in the garden, take a closer look at the small fly on your flowers. It may actually be a wild bee! Also called native, solitary, or stingless bees, these bees make up over 90% of the bee species in Houston. They range in size from smaller than a grain of rice, to larger than a piece of popcorn! As single working moms each female bee builds her own nest, lays a few eggs, then collects pollen and nectar to stock the pantry. Since wild bees do not have a hive to defend, they did not evolve the instinct to sting. This sets them apart from honeybees which have a venomous sting, and should be noted: are not native to America. Wild bees are highly effective pollinators and are fun to observe.
Helping these gentle, but powerhouse pollinators is as simple as providing flowers for food and avoiding pesticides or using organic alternatives. The more diversity of flowers in your yard, the more diversity of bee species you will see.
You can also create an inviting home for them to live in your garden. Most wild bee species dig little burrows in the ground, but about 30% nest in wood tunnels or stems
For these so-called “cavity nesters” you can hang a bee house, similar to a bird house but for bees. The simplest bee house is a bundle of hollow bamboo stems, cut to 6-inch lengths. A more labor-intensive method is to drill nesting holes in a block of preservative-free wood between 3/32” and 3/8” in diameter, and 6 inches deep. If you’re really handy, you can find designs to build observation bee houses using a sheet of plexiglass that allows an observer to peek into the nests to watch the baby bees growing. Hang your bee house on a secure structure 3-5 feet from the ground. Avoid hanging it in full sun where it will bake, or full shade as this encourages mold. I like to hang mine where it gets shade during the hottest part of the day. You’ll know you have tenants when you start seeing holes plugged up with mud or plant material.
Most importantly, provide lots of flowers for food! My favorite plants for bees in Houston are:
- African Blue Basil
- Indian Blanket
For more tools and resources in creating a pollinator garden, see our Gardening for Pollinators and Bees on demand Webinar.
Camia is a science teacher and bee enthusiast in Houston. You can find her free pictorial guide to the most common Houston bees on her website http://www.houstonnativebees.org/learn/tx-native-bees/