5 Beneficial Bees You Want in Your Garden

Help these good bees thrive in your backyard.

Bees are tremendously important pollinators of plants, commercial crops, and native vegetation. There are over 4,000 native North American bee species, in addition to the European honeybee, and many are in decline. Most native bees are solitary, individually nesting in tunnels rather than forming hives and making honey.

To create a bee-friendly space, plant wildflowers, blooming trees and shrubs for a steady supply of nectar and pollen from early spring to fall. Fill a birdbath with gravel to give bees a place to drink without drowning, and another filled with mud for nesting material. Provide fallen logs, tree snags, dead plant stems and open patches of sandy soil for nesting. Plus, you can build or buy bee houses made of replaceable nesting tubes. Once you’ve got these few basics down and bees are visiting your yard, watch for some of these species:

Amy Wolitzer
Amy Wolitzer Alkali bees, like this one, look similar to honeybees, but slightly smaller.

1. Squash Bees

These fuzzy, solitary ground nesters gather nectar and pollen exclusively from squash, pumpkins and gourds, pollinating the flowers so the plants can produce bounty for you.

2. Mason Bees

There are about 140 mason bee species in North America. Some have dull black and yellow striping, while others are blue-black or green. They are solitary nesters, laying eggs in a series of mud-walled chambers in decaying wood. The blue orchard mason bee is an efficient pollinator of fruit trees.

3. Blueberry Bees

Blueberry bees are a stocky, solitary species and look similar to bumblebees. They vibrate their wings at a blossom to shake the pollen out of it, a technique called “buzz pollination.” They are important pollinators of blueberries in the South.

4. Alkali Bees

Crucial to the pollination of alfalfa, these boldly striped bees are found in the west and nest in tunnels in the ground. Though they don’t form hives, females build their elaborate nesting tunnels in close proximity to each other, forming colonies.

5. Bumblebees

Like honeybees, bumblebees form hives. There are 46 species in North America, and most nest in holes in the ground, under fallen logs or in old rodent burrows. In the spring, the queen emerges from hibernation and looks for a suitable place to build her hive. She mated at the end of the previous summer and is ready to lay her first eggs, which hatch into female worker bees that collect nectar and pollen, make honey and maintain the hive. Bumblebees pollinate native wildflowers and several edibles, such as tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.

14 Plants for Bees

Create an ideal bee habitat with nectar and pollen plants.

  1. Milkweed
  2. Mountain mint
  3. Anise hyssop
  4. Sedum
  5. Lavender
  6. Blanket flower
  7. Bee balm
  8. Coneflower
  9. Sunflower
  10. Aster
  11. Blueberry
  12. Elderberry
  13. Serviceberry
  14. Apple, pear and other fruit trees

David Mizejewski
David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation.