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Home Landscapes can help native bee populations

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Posted in Pollinators.

Interview with Heather Holm acclaimed author of “Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide”Blog post gardeninacity, October 2018

Why should native bee conservation be an urgent concern for gardeners?

With the significant amount of habitat loss, we can no longer just garden for ourselves. We have native bees, in particular bumble bees, threatened with extinction or endangered.

How much of a difference can home landscapes make regarding this problem?

Home landscapes can play a significant role in supporting native bee populations, especially if there is a community-based effort of many people gardening or providing flowering plants in a connected corridor in a neighborhood. Native bees are limited in their flight distance and do much of their foraging in a small area if an adequate supply of food is available. They are also adept at finding new sources of food such as the new garden someone just installed. If you plant it, they will come.

How do you see the relationship between conservation of native bee species and honeybees?

Apples and oranges. Much is known about the honey bee and the population changes of the honey bee which can be attributed to their domestication (pathogens and disease) and environmental risks such as pesticides. Many people are not aware that the honey bee is a stable species and not at risk of extinction.

The media has put too much focus on this one species drawing the public’s attention away from native bees, the bees in need of conservation.Very little is known about population changes of native bees, however, with the exception being bumble bees. One can likely conclude that habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, and climate change are factors also impacting these understudied species.

What is the relative importance of perennials, small trees and shrubs, and shade trees when it comes to native bee conservation?

They are all important. Woody plants including trees and shrubs can play a significant role in providing forage for native bees. Just think of the scale, size, and number of flowers a large insect-pollinated shade tree provides compared to a perennial garden. Creating and maintaining large perennial gardens may not be for everyone so I always encourage people to start with planting trees.

What else can gardeners do to help provide nesting opportunities for native bees?

Look for existing ground nests in your garden particularly in the spring before your plants start to grow and cover the ground. If you have existing nests, it can provide you with a lot of information such as preferred soil and exposure. If you find nests, consider how you can provide similar opportunities. For above-ground nesting bees, the majority of which use preexisting cavities, I recommend leaving topped flower stalk stubble (15” tall) from the previous growing season. The other simple thing one can do is incorporate logs on the ground in the garden. Standing dead trees are also beneficial but often not practical for small gardens.

Tell us about your new book, “Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide”. How is it helpful to gardeners?

My new book is a combination of a bee identification guide profiling 30 genera of bees, and a plant library including 100 native trees, shrubs, and perennials that support bees and other pollinating insects. It has a comprehensive listing of pollen-collecting specializations featuring many specialist bees and several of the plants specialist bees depend upon. There is extensive information on the cultural requirements for the plants profiled, as well as pollinator visitation information. Gardeners can use the book in two ways: learn what to plant to attract pollinators, and identify and learn about the biology of the bees that frequent their garden.

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