A HOMEGROWN TRADITION: Even bees have plants that make ‘em weak in the knees!

A HOMEGROWN TRADITION: Even bees have plants that make ‘em weak in the knees!

PHOTO: Honey bees visiting Asiatic Poppy. // Photo by Amy Dismukes



Bringing bees into the landscape is actually a pretty easy task.

By following a few simple directives, you can have a garden full of little buzzing buddies.

Choose bee bombs (preferred plants) that are suited for both short and long-tongued bees, in your
region. Limit the use of bee-toxic insecticides. Provide some shelter in your garden.

Bees need protection from the elements too. And create nesting sites in order to support the entire life cycle, from egg to larva to adult.

One might be hesitant to attract stinging insects into the garden, but keep in mind, stinging is a defense mechanism and is generally only used when the insect itself feels threatened. Say for instance, you begin wildly swinging your arms around and slapping at a honey bee … you should probably expect to be stung. Now, if you’re chill with bees, they’re generally going to be pretty chill with you.

If you’ve ever watched a bee as it forages a flower, you’ve noticed it doesn’t really care about you. These guys are just doing their thing: searching for pollen and nectar. They’re not looking for a fight.

Honey bees foraging butterfly weed. // Photo by Amy L. Dismukes

Additionally, and get ready for this one, NOT ALL BEES STING!

When we think about bees, we immediately think of the honey bee. Although a critical part of our food system, the honey bee is not the only pollinating bee out there. We’ve got all sorts of guys working on our behalf. There’s the bumble bees, the cuckoo bees, the sweat bees, the leafcutters, the masons … and then there’s the other natives.

Overall, Tennessee currently hosts 55 different genera of bees. Surprised?

The most important thing that bees do is pollinate. Pollination is needed for plants to reproduce. It’s said that about one in every three bites of food you consume was pollinated by a bee. Pollinators in general are crucial for the biodiversity of our planet.

Carpenter bee foraging anise hyssop. // Photo by Amy L. Dismukes

By providing bee food and shelter in your landscape, you’re creating a new habitat. These new habitats may become very important, as natural habitats become less abundant.

Choose a selection of flowering plants that appeal to all types of bees and suited for our region of Tennessee, that bloom at different times throughout the season. Bees tend to go for bluish purples, whites and yellows. Include some native plants as well. Exotics that produce lots of nectar, like butterfly bush, are great for attracting bees into your yard, but often need to be supplemented with natives because they may not be able to support the entire life cycle (and can often be considered invasive).

Check out the plant list below for a few ideas:

Try and limit the use of insecticides to ensure that those you’ve invited aren’t exposed to poisons that could potentially harm. That includes lawn treatments folks! Low doses of insecticides can disorient and even disrupt navigation skills, causing a bee to lose its way. Practicing IPM, or integrated pest management, is the best way to limit the use of insecticides. Go low-toxicity when possible.

While most folks aren’t equipped to raise bees, creating a nesting habitat is really easy.

Natives nest in old wood, tree cavities or even in the ground. These nests can be easily replicated with a few supplies and tools.

There are many sites online that can provide detail. Check out ‘Nests for Native Bees’, a fact sheet available online via The Xerces Society. Providing shelter can be as simple as creating a garden that is guarded from the elements.

And remember, you don’t have to dig up the whole backyard in order to attract bees. Use additional flowering plants to supplement your existing landscape by installing among anchor plants or utilize a container system for mobility.

And remember, we all come from the earth, return to the earth … and in between, we garden (even bees).

bees“A Home Grown Tradition” is written by Amy Dismukes. Amy is the UT/ TSU  Horticulture Extension Agent for Williamson County, Tennessee and is a graduate of Auburn University, where she received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Agriculture in Plant Pathology & Entomology. She provides educational training for both homeowner and commercial clientele regarding issues concerning horticulture, conducts site visits throughout the county to diagnose and resolve issues with insects, plant diseases, soil and weeds, and is a frequent guest speaker for professional, garden and horticultural associations and commercial pesticide workshops/conferences. Amy also coordinates the Williamson County Master Gardener Program. Please email any questions or concerns to Amy at ahomegrowntradition@gmail.com.

This column includes research-based recommendations from Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee. Extension is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.
Educational programs serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation or national origin.

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