Bees In Your Native Garden

Author: Mark Sheehan | 05/20/24

How You Can Help Protect These Vital Insects

Camas with Bee


Bees are pollination heroes of the native garden. While non-native honey bees get all the attention, native bees (more than 600 species in Washington) pollinate the majority of bee-pollinated flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. Bees efficiently gather pollen from a particular species’ flowers and faithfully deliver the pollen to other flowers of the same species, thus insuring pollination of the entire population.

The Islands still have large numbers of native bee species going about their critical and free pollination work that benefits all of us.
Unfortunately, however, their populations are declining, as are insect populations worldwide. So how can we help these vital insects?

  1. Reduce your lawn. The typical lawn provides few or no ecological services. A smaller lawn opens up more area for native wildlife habitat and reduces the need for mowing and application of harmful biocides
  2. Enhance nesting habitat. Keep your garden “messy” over the winter. Many bees nest in the ground. A leaf litter layer and plant stalks with hollow cores provide larvae with overwinter protection. Drill small holes in snags and stumps for cavity dwelling bees. Bumblebees nest in rock piles and rock walls. Create bee houses but avoid large bee “hotels”—predators love them.
  3. On the Islands, there’s no need to add honey bees to boost pollination in a native garden. Keep honey bees for honey, not to boost pollination.
  4. Avoid all pesticides, even those labeled “safe.” If they kill insects, they kill bees. Instead, create more diverse native habitats to increase the number of predators that naturally control pests.
  5. Plant flowers with a diversity of colors and flowering times. Plant species that flower early and others that flower late to extend the season and address the impacts of climate change. You can still enjoy a mix of native and nonnative flowering plants, but avoid hybrids that have lost the pollen-bearing structures (anthers) in their flowers. Bees need pollen to raise their larvae. No pollen = No bees.

Resources with helpful fact sheets:

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Washington State University Extension:

Use your favorite search engine and enter “native Washington bees”; many resources are available.


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