It’s no secret bees are an important part of agriculture. According to a study from Cornell University, the estimated yearly monetary value of the production of honeybees and native bees alike in the United States equates to around $29 billion in farm income.
“Bees are very important,” said Nancy Reeves, president of the Lowndes County Master Gardeners. “They’re very important for pollinating our food, pollinating flowers and producing honey. I personally enjoy honey and think it has health benefits.”
So, as spring rounds the corner, there are several things Golden Triangle residents can do while gardening that will go an extra mile in supporting bees.
“If I was a gardener, I’d encourage gardners to think of plants that are going to help our native insects, butterflies, moths and native bees,” said Jeff Harris, a honey bee specialist at Mississippi State’s Extension Service. “Plant for them, and that will help honeybees. The one reason we want to encourage people to use native plants is there’s this whole food chain that depends on native plants. If you plant a non-native planet, many of the insect species don’t recognize it as food.”
According to an article published on MSU’s Extension website, some of those regional plants honey bees are attracted to include coneflower, coreopsis, goldenrod, yarrow and American holly. Herbs that honey bees are attracted to include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and Comfrey (which can be used as fertilizer), according to MSU Extension. White, blue and violet flowers may be the color preference of some bees. Toxic plants to avoid are rhododendrons, azaleas, and Carolina jessamine.
“There are good plants and bad plants,” Reeves said. “You want to stay away from toxic plants.”
It is recommended by MSU Extension that a gardener plants individual species of flowers in large groups or drifts. If this is not desired or feasible, plant small groups of the same species throughout the garden bed, spaced no more than a few yards apart, so bees can easily “hop” from one group to the next.
Being careful with insecticide sprays is another crucial element of assisting pollinators. Each gardener should read an insecticide label carefully and never spray an insecticide for a pest problem when a plant is in bloom, Harris says.
“What happens is you coat the flowers and the pollinators are drawn in and have contact with the insecticides and can cause a lot of harm.”
Spraying at later times in the day is always ideal for pollinators, Harris said. Bees have a maximum flight activity of going to flowers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., so a good time to spray is around 4 p.m.
Meanwhile, gardeners are encouraged to resist temptation to cut their lawns too early, because a negative consequence may be making life uncomfortable for bees.
“We keep our lawns way too clean,” Harris said. “We get rid of nesting habitats for our native bees. They nest in the ground and they need untilled, undisturbed areas.”