Help native bees help your garden

May 29, 2009 | By | Comments (7)


There’s been a synchronicity of bees around here this week. The other day, Kimberley and I were discussing the National Wildlife Federation’s June/July story about the importance of native pollinators (and that means bees!) when we saw something crawling on the floor in her office.

It was a bee. This little bee you see here, no longer than an eraser on a pencil.

We don’t know what kind of bee this is, but in the last 2 days, we’ve found 7 of them crawling around the imaging department (2 of them engaged in the activity that fulfills their half of The Birds & The Bees concept). We think they’re native bees, but we don’t know for sure.

Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to plant and animal identification. I love a good dichotomous key. But I have to admit, it was daunting to try to identify this little bee on The Bug Guide, a site that promises to help you identify insects, spiders, “and their kin.” Honestly, there are more kinds of bees on there than you’d find at an overturned Pepsi truck on the highway.

And that is exactly the point of the National Wildlife Federation’s story about native pollinators. It turns out that the numerous native bees of North America may be among the answers to the pollination woes brought about by the decline of the European honeybee. In California alone there are more than 1,600 known species of native bees, and there may be over 4,000 species of bees and wasps in North America. That’s a lot of pollinating possibilities.

Littlebee2 But our native pollinators are at risk as well, through habitat and forage loss, pesticide use, and other troubles brought about by bees living wing to elbow with humans (a species, as you may have noticed, that is not in decline).

There’s good news. You, the human, can help native pollinators, and it’s not as hard as you might think. The National Wildlife story has tips that range from reducing your use of pesticides to becoming a “messy” gardener by leaving patches of unmulched soil and brush piles that pollinators can use for nests. (I wholeheartedly endorse and practice that advice).

And you can plant a bee-friendly garden. I like Urban Bee Gardens, a website with a whole hive full of information about bees and the gardens they love, including plant lists. And definitely read “In the Key of Bee,” in BayNature, for more information about bee gardens.

Or branch out and plant a garden that will attract may different types of pollinators—like butterflies, moths, bats, and birds. has some nifty downloadable guides tailored to specific areas of North America.

Bee gardens aren’t just altruistic pursuits. Gardening to help pollinators will also help your garden, and you’ll reap the benefits with better yields of fruits and vegetables.

Happy bee gardening!


  1. Marika

    Thanks for the article. We found a bunch of these black bees from your picture nesting in our old, old tree stump that our kids used to use to learn wood working skills. I am excited to have them here!

    September 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm
  2. Barb Smith

    Two years ago Dr. Frankie, an Entomologist at Berkeley U., began an experiment to see if native bees could be attracted to our urban garden that has a mixture of veggies and bee drawing plants. Emerson Community garden has 30 plots in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA. We have now drawn 35 different native bees and are enjoying a pollination explosion. Our flowers and veggies are awesome thanks to
    the native bee!

    July 1, 2009 at 8:21 pm
  3. Margaret

    According to, yes, bumblebees can sting, but are reluctant to do so. Like honey bees, they’ll only sting if threatened, frightened, or if they’re protecting their nest. I’ve never been stung by a bumblebee, even when working side by side with them in the garden.

    Ironically, according to, if you keep a tidy garden and clean away sites in which a bumblebee would like to nest, you can inadvertently encourage them to come into your house as they search for a place to call home. So, hurrah for the “untidy hedge” where bumbles will nest and raise happy baby bumblebees.

    June 4, 2009 at 12:07 am
  4. pedroza family

    The day after reading this article, I noticed a lot of big black bumble bees in my yard. Do those sting? They look scarier than regular bees. I also noticed they are attracted to purple flowers (but not my lavender plant). As long as they don’t come inside my home I guess I’m cool with them. 🙂

    June 3, 2009 at 6:57 am
  5. Beth

    Beth from Bay Nature here. Thanks for the link and for spreading the word about native pollinators.

    June 2, 2009 at 11:07 pm
  6. Margaret

    Nope. We’re all still alive!

    June 1, 2009 at 4:23 pm
  7. pedroza family

    I just hope it’s not one of those african killer bees.

    June 1, 2009 at 6:16 am

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