At this point, we’ve all heard about the troubling decline in native and domesticated pollinators. While honeybees have become the spokes-species – due largely to their commercial importance – climate change, agriculture and human development are having a widespread affect on many pollinator species. We reached out to Puget Sound’s bee-brainiacs to gather advice about creating a pollinator-friendly backyard and safely dealing with unwanted bee and wasp colonies.
Picking pollinator-friendly plants
Many gardeners focus on creating the biggest, brightest bee-buffet on the block. But that may not be the most beneficial use of your garden space. In the height of summer, most gardens are bursting with color and pollinators have little trouble finding nectar. Focus instead on the peripherals of the growing season — early spring and late fall — when food is scarce.
Local beekeeper and owner of Cork Hives Liz Miller said there is an ongoing argument in the beekeeping community about whether to focus on native or exotic plants. She tends the think the answer is somewhere in the middle.
“If you’re just working in your yard, plant a mix of natives and exotics and shoot for early blooms and late blooms,” Miller said.
In late winter and early spring, bees rely especially on nectar from native species like Big Leaf Maples, Red-Flowering Currant and Beaked Hazelnut. Early exotic bloomers include Heather, Forsythia, Flowering Cherry/Plum/Almond trees, and flowering bulbs (Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths). See more from Oregon State University.
In later summer and fall, as the peak summer blooms fade, have a mix of late-blooming native perennials like Yarrow, Campanula, and Douglas aster. Check out Real Gardens Grow Natives and Bee Culture for more ideas. Personally, I’ve had success with exotic Salvias that are borderline perennials in our climate. Mine bloomed and attracted pollinators well into November last year.
For more ideas, wait until temperature is above 55 degrees (when its warm enough for bees to fly around) and take a walk through your neighborhood or the Bellevue Botanical Garden. What’s blooming? What’s attracting pollinators?
The most important thing is to keep your yard chemical free. Pesticides and herbicides often have hidden effects that can harm pollinators. If they don’t kill the pollinator itself, they might be killing their food source or habitat. Most plant infestations will run their course naturally or indicate greater environmental problems. In other words, if pests destroy your plants, it was probably in the wrong place to begin with.
Check out our tips for natural lawn care and consider if it’s worth the time and chemicals to maintain the golf course lawn look. More importantly, ask yourself why people strive to make their grass look like astroturf.
A natural lawn will no doubt have patches of weeds. However, left unsprayed, dandelions and clover are not only important pollinator food sources, they’re fit for human consumption as well.
Check out these pollinator friendly-items in the Emeraldology Shop!
Don’t be pollinator-picky
Miller said her biggest pet-peeve is unproportionate amount of attention honey bees receive on behalf of pollinators.
“It’s not helpful putting bees on a pedestal and then spraying all the wasps to death because they are misunderstood,” Miller said. “They are not only important pollinators but important pest control.”
Honeybees (non-native to PNW) and bumblebees (native to PNW) get a lions-share of the pollinator attention. However, they are just two species on a long list of local pollinators. Wasps, beetles, hummingbirds, flies, mosquitoes, butterflies, moths and bats do the same work. Just as maintaining a pollinator-friendly, chemical-free lawn can benefit all these species, spraying chemicals and removing native plants can hurt them.
If things get too pollinator-friendly…
It worked! Planting a garden and avoiding chemicals created a pollinator paradise. In fact, the pollinators are so grateful they’ve decided to move in to your house — literally! There’s no shame in wanting your personal space back, but don’t be so quick to reach for a can of Raid.
There are several poison-free insect removal services in the Puget Sound area. For Greater Seattle and select Eastside neighborhoods, track down Dan The Bee Man or Jerry the Bee Guy (whose name is actually Marvin). These local insect-enthusiasts use non-toxic methods to remove and relocate stinging insect nests. According to Jerry the Bee Guy, even in the case of Yellowjackets, which he finds necessary to kill, he puts the insects to good use in his compost pile or as feed for his chickens.
The Wild Bee Company based in Edmonds serves “Seattle, Lynwood, Shoreline and other cities in King and Snohomish counties.” Owner Keith Glatzer is an experienced contractor and specializes in removing colonies inside of walls with minimal damage to the house. In the case of honeybees, he relocates the colony to his own apiary and sells the honey and bees.
Glatzer said there are certain cases where his services are necessary. For example, underground and cavity nests pose a threat to pets and children. Not only are these colonies hidden, they are largely protected from insecticides.
“I’ll show up to jobs and there’s 15 cans of Raid laying around and wasps still flying in and out of the nest,” Glatzer said. “It just isn’t possible to take care of a ground nest that way, and who knows what else has been effected by all the spraying.”
Cascadia Venom Collection
For those in Thurston, Mason, Pierce, Grays Harbor and some of Lewis county, look no further than Cascadia Venom Collection. This free service removes unsprayed and undisturbed nests and sells them to labs to that extract venom for allergy immunotherapy.
How cool is that!? What a great way to turn a nuisance into a community benefit.
Feature photo by Liz Miller.