tips for home gardeners
our seemingly endless winter, most of us are itching to
load up on plants and get our hands dirty. Whether you
grow on a grand scale or tend a couple of pots, chances
are you’ll be buying plants at a garden center or
plant sale. When you do, a growing chorus of voices is
urging you to keep bees in mind.
die-offs, colony collapse disorder and possible causes
have made headlines. They’ve also "made the
public aware of our stewardship role with bees,"
said Vera Krischik, associate professor of entomology at
the University of Minnesota.
fact, bee-friendly gardening was named a top national
trend for 2014 by the Garden Media Group.
in Minnesota, there’s a lot going on with bees,"
said Lex Horan, Minneapolis-area organizer for the
Pesticide Action Network North America, which helped
organize a "swarm" at a Minneapolis Home Depot
in February to urge the retailer to stop selling
products believed to be toxic to bees.
in particular, has become a hive of bee-related activity
have been packing auditoriums for bee seminars, pushing
for new legislation to protect bees and beekeepers and
urging retailers to stop selling and using
neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides that
some suspect is playing a role in recent bee die-offs.
on neonicotinoids’ impact on bees is underway. But in
the meantime, several large local players, including
retailers Bachman’s and Gertens and wholesale grower
Bailey Nurseries, have decided to err on the side of
caution and eliminate or sharply reduce their use of
not to kill bees is only one piece of the
pollinator-protection puzzle, however.
more and more habitat lost to development and
agriculture (corn and soybeans, the state’s top crops,
don’t provide nectar), bees need food, too. And that’s
where home gardeners can really help, according to
main thing is to plant more flowering plants," said
Heather Holm, of Minnetonka, Minn., a landscape designer
and author of the new book "Pollinators of Native
Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and
Beneficial Insects With Native Plants" (available
bees, in particular, have a short flight distance —
about 500 yards, she said. "If you and your
neighbors aren’t providing forage, they will have a
hard time finding food."
the pollinators’ perspective, it’s important to have
a continuous succession of plants flowering throughout
the growing season, Holm said. "In most gardens
there is a gap," especially in early spring and
late fall. Holm advises gardeners to evaluate their
landscape, identify the flower gaps and fill them. Good
early-spring bloomers are woodland plants, such as
bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches and wild geranium. Good
fall bloomers include asters and goldenrod.
all flowering plants aren’t equal, from the bee’s
perspective. "Stick with straight species"
rather than cultivars, Holm advised. "If breeding
has changed the flower color, it can also change the
fragrance or nectar. It may look better to us, but it
may not be attractive to bees."
choosing plants, opt for older, simpler varieties, Holm
said, even if it means passing up the plants that catch
your eye with their showy form or unusual hue.
"Rethink how a bee or pollinator would see your
garden — not just what you think is prettiest, with
double flowers or a brand-new introduction in a cool
color," she said.
plants for bees include coneflowers, liatris, salvia,
catmint, catnip, hyssop, black-eyed Susans and
single-flower sunflowers, Krischik said. (For an
extensive list, by region, of bee-friendly plants, visit
the Xerces Society’s website, ( www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/GreatLakesPlantList_web.pdf
of the plants sold today "have been hybridized to
the point that they don’t have much value to
pollinators," said Ron Bowen, president of Prairie
of Princeton, Minn., who encourages homeowners to
convert 25 percent of their land to native prairie
you plant natives, you’re going to be helping
something, native bees or other beneficial
insects," he said. "Most of us have been
taught that insects are bad, like mosquitoes. But
insects are pretty important. That awakening is upon
help gardeners create more bee-friendly landscapes,
Bowen has developed a series of prairie-restoration
kits, which contain plants and seedlings to cover a
500-square-foot area — about the size of a very large
living room — along with a book about wildflowers. One
of Bowen’s kits, the "Pollinator Package,"
consists of 32 species of wildflowers and grasses that
provide habitat and food sources for bees and other
course, buying plants that attract bees may not be
beneficial if the plants themselves are laced with toxic
chemicals. A study released last summer by Friends of
the Earth-US and co-authored by the Pesticide Research
Institute, found that seven of 13 samples of garden
plants at some large national retailers in Minneapolis,
Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay area
contained neonicotinoids, including plants marketed as
"bee-friendly." That’s why bee advocates
urge gardeners to make informed decisions when buying
first, before you buy, to confirm they’re not using
systemic insecticides," said Holm. "Look at
smaller, local growers rather than those who buy from
others. Do your homework." The insecticides are so
widely used that avoiding them can be a challenge,
particularly when buying trees and shrubs, which have a
longer growth cycle before they’re brought to market.
insecticides are everywhere; they’re so effective, and
so safe for humans," said Jean-Marc Versolato,
production manager of plant health, for Bailey
Nurseries. Nonetheless, the wholesale grower recently
discontinued spraying foliage with neonicotinoids,
although it is still using small amounts of the systemic
insecticides in granular form on some tree crops in the
field. "Insects can really affect the growth of
trees when they’re small," he said.
gardeners who use insecticides are encouraged to avoid
neonicotinoids, especially if they’re growing plants
that are attractive to bees. "If people want to use
perennial natives or heirlooms, they should not use
systemic insecticides," Krischik said. "They’re
completely legal, but they’re absorbed by the plant
and can end up in the pollen or nectar."
Twin Cities-area group, Pollinator Revival, has been
working with local hardware stores and garden centers,
urging them to remove neonicotinoid insecticides from
their shelves. "We’ve made quite a lot of
progress," said co-founder Julia Vanatta of
Minneapolis. "Our goal is to educate consumers and
retailers, get stores to voluntarily remove these
products and help retailers with disposal, which is a
huge cost. We can’t wait until laws happen. We have to
the meantime, consumers should read labels and the list
of active ingredients when buying insecticides, Vanatta
advises. "The brand names change constantly."
the active ingredients include imidocloprid, clothandin,
thamethoxan, acetamiprid or dinotefuran, the insecticide
is considered a neonicotinoid and a potential threat to
bees. While active ingredients must be labeled under
law, inert ingredients are not always listed, but lumped
under "other ingredients"; some of these are
also believed to be detrimental to pollinators.
one reason insecticides should be used sparingly and as
a last resort, according to some bee advocates.
"People have a tendency to put things on plants to
prevent problems, rather than wait to treat problems
once they occur," said Vanatta. "We need to be
a little less fussy."
who are concerned about bees should be prepared to
accept some imperfections, such as a few aphids on a
plant they purchase, agreed Versolato.
"Picture-perfect will be difficult without