5 Easy Ways to Help the Bees

Native bees and honeybees are struggling in many places. Make the effort to help bees and other pollinators in your area thrive with these simple steps.

honeybee on sunflowerCourtesy Susan Grove/Country magazine
A honeybee collects pollen from a sunflower.

Bees have been in the news a lot over the last few years. Declines in their populations are cause for alarm in many places. The good news is, people really want to help bees. The problem is, they don’t always go about it in the best way. For instance, you may have read about the controversy concerning the wildflower packets that a certain cereal company distributed recently. Though their intentions to help bees were admirable, the packets contained seeds that were non-native and even invasive for some areas. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy steps you can take to help bees, many at no cost. Here are five ways to get started.

Avoid Pesticides

This one seems a pretty obvious way to help bees, right? Of course, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes you have to figure out how to battle an infestation of cabbage worms or Japanese beetles. The key here is to treat these problems where and when they happen, rather than applying broad-spectrum pesticides “just in case.” Additionally, be on the lookout for plants that have been treated with systemic pesticides, like neonicotinoids. These pesticides are found throughout the entire plant, and can’t be rinsed off. Many states require plants treated with systemic pesticides to be marked as such, and you should definitely avoid them whenever you can. Check out more natural ways to eliminate garden insect pests.

Plant Native Wildflowers

One of the major problems with the seed packets mentioned above was that they contained invasive plant seeds like Chinese forget-me-nots, which can out-compete native plants and disrupt ecosystems. They also contained other non-native plants, which either may not thrive or simply may not attract as many bees. The best way to help provide the nectar and pollen bees need is to plant the native wildflowers they seek out. Those plant vary widely by region, so start by contacting your local extension office for suggestions. You can also use the tools provided by the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Resource Center. Their interactive regional map will help you locate the right wildflowers to help bees in your area. Check out the top 10 flowers that attract bees.

Be Kind to Weeds

On that same note, don’t be too quick to pull or mow weeds. After all, what you consider a “weed” may be a wildflower that bees depend on. Consider leaving a patch of your yard as wild as possible. If space allows, plant a wildflower meadow. Additionally, contact your local government and urge them to consider mowing roadsides and medians less frequently, to allow wildflowers that grow there to thrive.

Wait Until Spring to Rake Leaves

Raking leaves seems like the quintessential fall chore. But to help bees, it’s better to leave leaves alone when you can, at least until late spring. Many types of wildlife depend on leaf litter to stay warm and safe over the winter, including queen bees. Leaf litter also protects plants from harsh weather. Try to wait until the local fruit trees like apples and pears have finished blooming—that’s when most bees have emerged from winter hiding and it’s safe to rake. Fall leaves also make great mulch for your lawn.

Learn About Bees

The Xerces Society is an excellent place to start. Most of us are familiar with bumblebees, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Take the time to learn about all the bees that live in your area, so you can recognize them and know which especially need your help. Meet five beneficial bees you want in your yard.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.