How to attract native bees to your garden

Encourage native bees to visit your garden by taking these simple steps. Your plants will thank you for it.

If you’re wondering whether it’s sensible to entice native bees to your garden, there’s one thing we need to get straight: native bees generally don’t sting.

They aren’t aggressive and some of them aren’t even capable of stinging you – we wouldn’t suggest trying to find out which of the 1650 Australian native bee species is though! So of course, it’s always better to play it safe.

Native bees play an important role in the environment. You probably know that honey bees help pollinate our plants but did you know that there are some native plants that they can’t pollinate?

This is where native bees come in. Many of our native bees are able to buzz pollinate, which honey bees can’t do, and it’s this type of pollination that’s required by some of our native plants.

Buzz pollination basically involves creating a vibration in the flower of the plant so that it will release its pollen. The blue-banded bee is one of these buzz pollinators.

There’s lots you can do to entice native bees to your garden. Here’s what:

Choose flowers that native bees would choose

Native bees prefer native plants, but they won’t wait around until your garden is in flower. Bees need pollen and nectar to live, and if they can't find flowers in your garden, they won’t settle in. Furrow bees begin foraging as soon as spring arrives, while resin bees and leafcutter bees often become active in summer. Plant a variety of locally native plants that provide flowers from early spring to late autumn, and you'll keep native bees happy all year.

If you need help picking native plants and you live in and around Adelaide, you’re in luck. There are two great garden guides featuring native plant suggestions that are perfect for this area: the Adelaide gardens planting guide and the coastal gardens planting guide

If you live further afield, the Botanic Gardens of South Australia Plant Selector is a great tool for picking suitable plants. It’s very simple – all you need to do is enter your postcode to generate a list of suitable plants for your area.

Don’t use insecticides

If you want to encourage bees to visit, don’t use insecticides. Especially systemic insecticides. Systemic insecticides are essentially soaked up by the roots of a plant before moving all the way through it.

They stay in the plant for a long time, which means pollen and nectar is poisonous for weeks, or even months, after application, so you might wind up accidentally killing the native bees visiting your garden.

Other types of insecticides are ‘contact’ and ‘ingested’ insecticides, which basically work as their names suggest – to be effective they either need to make contact with their target or need to be swallowed/absorbed.

Give native bees somewhere to live

Some native bees like to make their homes in the ground – that’s right, some bees burrow! – and others live in wood or crevices between rocks.

To appeal to those that live in soil, leave some bare ground. That means leaving some areas with no mulch.

You could also create a bee hotel for your new friends. A bee hotel is basically just the term for man-made homes for bees, which can be as simple as a few holes drilled into wood or paper straws in a piece of pipe. 

Check out this in-depth guide on how to build one – there’s plenty of options to choose from. Or check out the video in this Facebook post for some tips from gardening guru Sophie Thomson and bee expert Dr Katja Hogendoorn. If you can’t build a bee hotel at your own house but think it looks like fun, you might be able to get involved in the Native bee ‘n’ bug hotels project, run by Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, the cities of Adelaide, Port Adelaide Enfield Council, Tea Tree Gully, Campbelltown, West Torrens, Norwood Payneham & St Peters, and Town of Walkerville. It’s all part of their shared vision of improving the River Torrens from the foothills to the sea.

Top news for tomato growing                                                                 

If you’re an avid veggie gardener, you might also be pleased to know that native bees can help you grow tastier tomatoes. It all has to do with how bees improve the pollination of tomato flowers.  

If you liked this, you’ll love Creature Features produced by the Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges education team. It’s got all the details about the flora and fauna that call South Australia home, and plenty of insights into the special role they play in the environment. For more facts specifically about native bees check out our previous blog post on bees and the environment.

(Main image courtesy of Jeremy Gramp)

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