There are 430 different bee species in New York State, including bumble bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, orchard mason bees, and honeybees. Bees can’t survive without the flowers of plants and the flowers’ existence depends on the bees. For the bees, plant pollen and nectar are their sole sources of protein and carbohydrates, respectively. As bees travel from one blossom to another, pollen clings to their fuzzy bodies. It is then transferred to the other flowers of the same species. This pollinates (i.e., fertilizes) the plant and seeds develop. Honeybees and native bees are critical to Long Island’s future!
What We Can Do
Ensure food sources: To increase forage for pollinators, plant hedgerows and yards with native plants, shrubs, and trees as these flowers are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. It is best to choose several colors of flowers (bees are particularly attracted to blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow), ensure blooming plants throughout the growing season, and plant flowers in clumps four feet or more in diameter. Try to also plant heirloom varieties of perennials and herbs. These plants are typically good sources of nectar and pollen, attributes that may have been lost when the plant was further bred for showy flowers or drought tolerance. For additional food opportunities, it is best to allow farm and garden crops, such as lettuces, to bolt, or to develop flower stalks which in turn produce seeds. Even more importantly, with over 31,000 square miles of lawns maintained as mowed grass in the United States (a combined land area of MA, RI, VT, and NJ), these areas could be converted from food deserts to bee smorgasbords simply by allowing clover, dandelion, and violet to grow – perhaps some of the lawn also could be converted to a perennial bed interspersed with shrubs.
Best flower garden/border plants for Long Island Bees:
– Catmint (Nepeta spp.) : 2’ max height; full sun; avg-dry soil. Flowers: spring & summer
– Giant hyssop (Agastache spp.), especially anise hyssop A. foeniculum & purple giant hyssop A. scrophulariifolia): 2′-3′ height; full sun; moist well-drained soil. Flowers: July-freeze
– Oregano (Origanum spp.): 1’ height; sun; dry soil. Flowers: summer
– Coneflower (Echinacea spp.): 2′-4‘ height; sun to partial shade; well-drained soil. Drought tolerant. Flowers: Jul-Sept
– Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia): 5’ height; sun; dry soil. Flowers: summer
– Lavender (Lavandula spp.): 3‘ height; sun; dry soil. Flowers: summer
Ensure nesting sites: The majority of bees in New York State are ground-nesting. While mulch and landscape fabric are effective in suppressing weeds and conserving water, it discourages groundnesting bees. Other species such as the bumble bee make nests in pre-existing cavities, such as an abandoned mouse nest or bird nest. Native orchard mason bees make their nests in smaller pre-existing cavities including old beetle burrows in dead trees. Leaving some of your yard unmulched and without weed fabric as well as allowing a few dead trees to remain provides essential habitat to native bee populations.
Protect from pesticides: Widespread pesticide use has contributed to the decline of bee populations. If pesticides must be used, spray on dry evenings after dark when bees are not active.
Buy local honey and beeswax products: Buying local helps local beekeepers stay in business, resulting in more hives, more bees to pollinate flowers on Long Island, and more public education about how great native bees and honeybees are! While some people may be buying honey bears at the grocery store imported from another country for a cheaper price, it is ultimately costing Americans much more. The staggering value of bees lies in their pollinating crops, trees and wildflowers.