Spring Without Bees? Plant More Flowers!!!!

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Beeless blossoms are everywhere this spring

Where Are The Bees?

Here we are in the middle of April, many gardens are bright with blossoms, and all those luxuriant spring flowers ought to be alive with bees. But they’re not. Granted it’s been cold (44 degrees this morning) and often windy too, and bees are most apt to be seen when temps are in the 50s and winds are breezy rather than gusty. To top it off, it’s also been scary dry all year so far, especially for a month that’s been famous for rain for hundreds if not thousands of years. In dry, windy years, blooms may shatter faster, giving pollinators less time to get the goods. On Saturday I checked in with my friend Charles, aka The Bee Guy, at his farmers market booth and he and several other folks said they also hadn’t noticed much or any bee activity this spring. So far, I’ve seen two big bumble queens (both on a glorious flowering currant) and one Mason bee on some Oregon Grape blossoms. But that’s it.

Super sadly, this is not a new trend. I’m not going to list all the dire information that’s accumulating about warmer autumns and hive collapse. Instead, I’m going to suggest that we work harder than ever to provide as close to an ongoing supply of blossoms as we possibly can. Cruise the nurseries every month and stock up on whatever is blooming strongly (as long as you can accommodate it in your garden, of course). Where will you put these new delights? If your garden is like mine, just remove the dead and the weak and you’ll have plenty of room for newcomers. The Big Freeze killed off quite a lot of plants that had been struggling after several challenging weather years, and this year, with five days in a row below freezing, many gave up the fight. That used to break my heart but these days, I’m focused on opportunity rather than loss. Out with the old and in with the new!

Being Bee Positive

To start off well, I’m planting a lot of native annuals, from Baby Blue Eyes and Clarkia to Meadowfoam, Phacelia, and California poppies. And why stop there? With weird weather on the rise, annuals are a safer bet than many perennials, so I’m also planting Alyssum and Bidens, Cosmos and Calendulas, Petunias and Sunflowers, Lavatera and Nigella, Marigolds and Zinnias, Flowering Tobacco and Morning Glory (annual!!!). Herbs are hugely popular with pollinators, so I’m restocking those too, from Borage, Fennel and Dill to Sage, Oregano, and Rosemary. Among the most visited perennials in my garden have been Agastaches and Gauras, Hardy Fuchsias and Salvias, Heleniums and Helichrysums, Bee Balm and Joe Pye Weed. Just thinking about these makes me smile as I envision these lovely blossoms covered with eager insects.

These plants will invite many generalist pollinators, but in the interest of encouraging native bees, I’m also allowing native perennials to stay where they put themselves, including Tiarella cordifolia (aka coralbells), Tellima grandiflora (aka foamflower), Tolmeia menzeisii (aka chocolate bells), and Vancouveria hexandra (aka inside-out flower). All these do well in shade that’s moist in spring and dry come summer, much like our native woodlands. Over the years, I’ve found several very persistent native perennials for hot dry sunny places, including Penstemon davidsonii, low grower creeper with vivid lavender blossoms, and a lovely native milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, which spreads slowly into large mats in full sun and dreadful soil without supplemental water. Though Monarch butterflies are not regular visitors to this part of the PNW, changing weather patterns may make occasional visitors become more frequent, and in any case, the starry, cream-soda-scented milkweed flowers are popular with a wide range of pollinators.

Beneficial Weeds

IS there really such a thing as a beneficial weed? Well of course there is! The idea of dividing plants into garden-worthy and weeds is rather arbitrary and often based on outdated research. Indeed, many gardeners consider native plants to be weeds when they appear in our gardens, despite their natural beauty and popularity with pollinators.  Native or not, Thistles are often rooted out relentlessly yet goldfinches will flock to any garden or meadow where thistles are permitted. Nettles are pesky plants if they invade garden beds or play yards but they are delicious as spring greens and highly sought after medicinal plants as well as pollinator magnets. Pretty little Self-Heal (Prunella) has both native and introduced forms and all are prized medicinals and pollinator pleasers. Lowly dandelions are eagerly visited by pollinators, as are all kinds of clovers, which also build soil nitrogen (in fact, they are indicators of nitrogen-poor soil). Though introduced, mostly from Eurasia, various Plaintains have become valued medicinal plants and are all pollinator pleasers.

Whether weeds get to stay or not depends largely on how aggressive they are; perennial morning glory can take over a garden in a single season (ask me how I know). Shotweed (aka hairy bitter cress) is far too successful a self sower to tolerate, and False bamboo, aka Japanese knotweed (Polygonum spp) is even worse; in some parts of England, properties infested with knotweed lose all value. Kudzu is another do-not-plant, as is English ivy. Weeds that appear on your local Noxious and Toxic Weed list do not belong in gardens, but that leaves a wide range of less invasive plants that may be more helpful than harmful. To tell the difference, check out vacant lots and meadow areas; where certain weeds predominate, beware. When the distribution is less dramatic, consider leaving self sown seedlings in place to see who is attracted to them. Onward, right?


This entry was posted in Annual Color, Birds In The Garden, Butterfly Gardens, Care & Feeding, Climate Change, Easy Care Perennials, Garden Design, Garden Prep, Gardening With Children, Hardy Herbs, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Plant Diversity, Pollination Gardens, Pollinators, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Weed Control. Bookmark the permalink.

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