Keeping it Native for the Bees

Even though the summer is winding down, there are still things we can do between now and the end of fall to impact the environment. In particular, we can employ gardening practices that can help our native bees. Take a look around the environment…not all bees are alike. Many of us remember being stung while walking barefoot in a field as a youngster or being buzzed by a large, slow-moving bumble bee. But as a child, or even as an adult, it’s hard to imagine that there might be hundreds of species of bees living right around our homes that provide the vital ecosystem service of pollination.

This female two-spotted long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculata) is one of Maryland’s native bees known for its long antennae and is usually found in field/meadow environments.
Photograph courtesy of Mikaela Boley.

The term “native bee” refers to 4,000 species of bees that are indigenous to North America. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), there are over 400 species of bees documented in Maryland. The MDNR site states, “Honey bees were introduced from Europe and now assist our native bees and other pollinators with the task of pollinating flowering plants. Surprisingly, honey bees are not effective pollinators for many native plants like cherries, blueberries and cranberries. So, attracting a variety of bees to your yard, particularly those which are native, will help with all of your pollinating needs.”

According to Mikaela Boley, Urban Horticulture/Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of Maryland Extension – Talbot County, native bees can vary in size. The Xerces Society explains that native bees range in length from one eighth of an inch to more than an inch and that often their common names reflect the way they build nests. In Maryland, the eight most common bees listed by the MDNR are honey bees, leaf cutting bees, bumble bees, larger carpenter bees, squash bees, mining bees, sweat bees and mason bees.

The guide to these native bees reveals that not only do bees range in size, but they vary in color from browns and golds to metallic blues and greens. Common names for bees can both reflect the way they build nests and their special traits. An example of a bee named for how it creates its nest is the cuckoo bee, which lays eggs in the nests of other species. Sweat bees like to drink salty perspiration and bumble bees were named after the loud humming noise they make when they fly.

The other interesting fact about our native bees is that not all bees are social bees, having queens and living in colonies. The majority of bees in the U.S. are solitary nesting bees and create and provision nests on their own. Even though they may share a nesting site with other bees, they don’t cooperate in building nests. Many live out of sight, working and foraging without us noticing.

According to Mikaela, “Honey bees and bumble bees are social insects utilizing a caste system with a queen and worker bees. Many native bee species are ground-nesting solitary bees, which means they do not depend on social behavior for raising and feeding their young.”

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources lists five common families of bees found in Maryland. These families include Apidae (Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and allies), Halictidae (Sweat Bees), Adrenidae (Miner Bees), Megachilidae (Leaf-cutter Bees, Mason Bees and allies) and Colletidae (Plasterer Bees).

We all have been educated by the media about how essential pollinators are to our environment, especially their role in the reproduction of the world’s flowering plants, including crop species, and the role they play in our ecosystems. The Maryland Extension Service lists several things we can do in our own backyards to help our native bees:

1) Plant lots of flowering plants (annuals and perennials, especially native species) and herbs with a variety of flower color, shape, and size with different flowering times.

2) Place a shallow saucer or container of water in the garden and change the water every other day.

3) Avoid using pesticides and if spraying is necessary, use properly and make the application when pollinators are least active (early morning or early evening).

4) Maintain bee habitat like brush piles, old stumps, and dead flower stalks which can provide habitat for nesting bees.

5) Support bee research initiatives and participate in citizen science projects. (bumblebeewatch.org or greatsunflower.org). There are also several opportunities to learn more about native bees and gardening locally through the Maryland Extension and Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely (extension.umd.edu/talbot-county and adkinsarboretum.org).

Local Resources 2019

  • St. Michaels Farmers’ Market – every third Saturday of the month answer gardening questions, insect/plant show-and-tell, and hand out free seeds to attendees.
  • Talbot County Free Library (Easton) -September 5 and 19 – Ask a Master Gardener garden questions and get free seeds from the Free Seed Library.
  • Talbot County Free Library (Easton) – September 27 at 10 a.m. – Free Fall Garden Lecture covering concerns for the garden in the fall, how to collect seeds, what vegetable crops to grow, and much more.
  • Talbot County Free Library (Easton) – October 16 at 10:15 a.m. Master Gardeners Plant & Seed Swap.
  • Talbot County Free Library (Easton) – December 12 at 5:30-7 p.m. -Therapeutic Horticulture Basics.
  • Adkins Arboretum

Saturday, August 3 • 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Professional development workshop for model activities that can be used to teach students in grades K–12 about wildlife and conservation. All participants will receive two free Project WILD guides filled with more than 100 lesson plans.

  • Building Diversity in the Garden

Part of the Native Landscape Design Series

Sunday, August 4, 2019 • 1-2:30 p.m.

One of the key principles in creating a Bay-Friendly garden is to increase the variety of plants. Join Barbara W. Ellis, author of Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping, to learn about the value of diversity in the garden and the fun of cramming as many plants as possible into every corner of a yard.

For further information, contact Mikaela Boley, Urban Horticulture/Master Gardener Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension – Talbot County, at 410-822-1244, ext. 1002 or email mboley@umd.edu.

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