Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bees to pollinate your Vegetables and Fruits

Digger bee coated with pollen - Whitney Cranshaw
Devoting valuable growing space to flowers to nurture bee pollinators may seem like a waste of time to vegetable and fruit growers. Perhaps it's time to rethink and plant some low-care perennial flowers for bees.

Pollinators have been in decline with increasing urbanization and the mysterious honey bee colony collapse disorder. We need bees to pollinate our food. Vegetable growers need to be concerned about pollinators for their vine crops: cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. Fruit growers are even more dependent on pollinators for brambles, strawberries and tree fruits.

Sweat bee and honey bee - Whitney Cranshaw
Although you may automatically think of honey bees, don't sell bumble bees and solitary bees short when it comes to pollination. There are a whole variety of native solitary bees to consider.

Some of the better low water and low care perennials to consider growing for bees are:

  • Sunflower (Helianthus sp. but not pollen-free florist types or fancy doubles)
  • Catmint (Nepeta extend flowering by cutting back after first flowering for a second flush of bloom)
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon sp. including Rocky Mountain penstemon, P. strictus)
  • Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  • Mint (Mentha sp.)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Silverheels horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium)

Also consider succession of bloom over the growing season. Don't know when perennials bloom? Click to find a helpful publication from Utah State University Extension complete with flower bloom time chart that is highly applicable to us in Colorado:  Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent list! I can attest that the bees in our neighborhood especially adore blue mist spirea, Russian sage and catmint. In addition, salvia, monarda (a.k.a. bee balm) and tithonia (a.k.a. mexican sunflower) are also big bee magnets; not to mention the lowly dandelion and our native rabbitbrush.