published Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Lea: How to help the bees

By Pat Lea

Q. I have heard about the loss of great numbers of bees. Is there anything ordinary gardeners can do to help our pollinators?

A. Enormous losses have been suffered by both commercial beekeepers and in native wild bee populations. It is a crisis situation since bees are the unpaid workers who pollinate many of our favorite food crops and our beloved flowers.

The reasons for what is called "colony collapse" are still being researched and effective prevention is not known, but home gardeners can provide help to our bees.

You can provide early blooming flowers to give the bees a guaranteed good start to the season, then continue to provide flowers, herbs and shrubs throughout the summer and fall for the bees.

You can research favorite bee flowers but there are even easier ways to help. Clover, a sometime nemesis of lawn fanciers, is an excellent source of food for the bees. Perhaps allow clover in one part of your lawn, say a less-used area? Clover enriches the soil and it is not as unsightly as some lawn lovers believe and the benefits are great.

Mahonia, an early blooming shrub with no pest issues that can grow in our deeply shaded areas, or Oregon holly grape has some new cultivars that produce copious early flowers and are very attractive. They can be added to the shade garden.

Plant your annuals and perennials in large groups that cover more than four feet in diameter. These mass plantings are better for pollinators than scattered individual flowers. Put in flowers such as dianthus, alyssum, poppies, coneflowers, Cosmos, dill, black-eyed Susans, Monardas and coreopsis.

You can add these sturdy perennials and annuals in any area with decent sunlight and some soft soil. Pots and half barrels work well if you have limited space. Remember not to plant bee attractors near swimming pools or kiddie play areas but almost any other area of the garden can help until the researchers find the source and solution to this serious problem.

Contact Pat Lea at lea.pat@gmail.com.

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