Andony Melathopoulos is out to bust some myths about the 500 species of bees living in the Pacific Northwest, most notably a myth about bee stings.
“I’ve been covered in 30,000 honeybees and didn’t get stung and I’m nobody special,” says Andony, a bee expert with Oregon State University Extension Service.
“The key message is that most bees don’t sting.”
Honeybees sting, but only if their hive is disturbed or they are approached aggressively.
Wasps and yellow jackets, which sting without provocation, can be controlled with a variety of traps available at garden centers and home supply stores. The most effective traps use a synthetic attractant to lure yellow jackets into a trap. Fruit juice or meat can be used as attractants as well.
Hundreds of native bees live in the ground and aren’t even recognized as bees. These solitary insects come out to pollinate and return to their nests so quickly most people never see them.
“There are a lot of bees in the city that are solitary,” Andony says. “They have radically different lifestyles than honeybees. I’m struck by people who want to save the bees who don’t know this. They’ll see an insect that looks like a fly and not realize it needs your help, too.”
Andony calls out bumblebees—one
of the largest-sized bees in the country—as a group to be concerned about. Not as much research has been done compared to honeybees, but there is evidence of decline of some species. One bumblebee in the Midwest has been relegated to the endangered list.
There’s good news, though. Home gardeners, whether they know it or not, provide pollen and nectar for pollinators simply by planting a mixture of flowering plants. In fact, it’s been shown that cities provide better forage than bordering agricultural land that tends to be planted in large, one-crop fields that may attract only one or a few types of bees.
“If you have diversity, as in many cities,” Andony says, “there’s an opportunity to feed many mouths. You lay out a smorgasbord for everyone. So the more things you plant, the better.”
There are three general principles to attracting bees to the garden.
- Choose plants attractive to bees. Walk through the neighborhood to see what they’re visiting. Many nurseries have areas where they display pollinator-friendly plants. Keep in mind, not all flowers provide food for bees. Some plants have been bred that don’t provide nectar or pollen. The rule of thumb is that natives tend to be better sources, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exotic plants that offer food, also. Rosemary or cherry laurel—both bee magnets—are good examples.
- Plant in swaths. Planting something is better than nothing, but a single plant rarely has visiting pollinators. “Bees are economical,” Andony says. “They want to go to a big-box store. No mom-and-pop stores for them.
- Have plants that bloom at different times of year. For example, in spring in the Willamette Valley, a big burst of cherries, maples and Oregon grape is followed by ceanothus and lupine, but after that there are gaps. Pay attention and fill in those lulls with flowers.
Even if all you do is plant a patch of pollinator plants, you’re giving a hand to the honeybees and native bees living in your neighborhood.
“A lot of people want a different aesthetic,” Andony says. “There’s nothing wrong with planting plants that don’t attract bees if you have a good percentage of bee-attractive plants in among them. That can be a stunning success.”