How familiar are you with your neighbourhood pollinators? Do you know how to attract them to your yard?
Here in Canada, we have five main pollinators :
- Butterflies and Moths
This article focuses on bees and in particular native bees. However, many of the ideas will also encourage other pollinators.
Supporting our honeybees and native bees has become quite the rage over the last few years. Last season, native bee houses were extremely popular. I’ve put together a few tips to encourage pollinators to visit your yard. They will also improve your odds of hosting a successful bee house!
1. Attract More Native Bees (and other pollinators)
Supporting native bee species is a bit different than managing honeybees. Beekeepers can place a managed honeybee hive in a convenient location (with some restrictions). The bees are directly introduced into their new home. Native bees, however, need to be enticed. If you have a bee house, you will want to gently encourage them to inhabit the new home you’ve generously provided for them. The first step in this process is to provide a proper habitat to attract them. Good food and water sources can go a long way in attracting pollinators. In turn, it can increase the probability of a busy bee house!
Bees need both nectar and pollen for survival. Pollen, which consists of small grains and carries the male reproductive cells of the plant, provides a source of protein and fats. Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by plants to encourage pollination. Foraging bees use this as a source of energy . Honeybees also turn nectar into honey. Some bee species are specialists relying on a single type of flower to survive while others are generalists. Bumblebees, for example, are generalists. They tend to be attracted most to blue or violet flowers although they will visit other flowers as well .
In planning your garden with pollinators in mind, it’s important to have food available all season. Crocuses, for example, are an early source of pollen. Echinachea provides pollen and nectar late in the season. Plan your garden to include plants that bloom throughout the season. Colour variety can also entice a variety of pollinators to frequent your yard. Heirloom and native plants have excellent nutritional value for pollinators. Native plants are also well suited to our climate. Some plants you may consider for your garden include:
- Crabapple (early season)
- Crocus (early season)
- Willow (early season)
- Catnip (mid season)
- Chives (mid season)
- Lavender (mid season)
- Borage (late season)
- Coneflower (late season)
- Cosmos (late season) 
It is extremely important for bees to have easy access to water because they do not store it. Bird baths tend to be too large for bees and introduce significant danger of drowning. Bee waterers, however, are easy to make. It’s fun to observe who visits them! These waterers provide landing pads for pollinators as they drink. If they happen to fall into the water, the landing pads are within swimming distance. To make your own bee waterer, follow the steps below:
- Shallow dish
- Landing pad material (river rocks, marbles, and glass stones work great)
- Place your landing pad material in the dish.
- Fill dish with water leaving the top of your landing pad material exposed.
Tip: Since the dish is shallow and we live in a dry climate, keep an eye on the water level to ensure there’s enough water to encourage a steady stream of visitors. Last summer, I refilled mine as often as daily on the hottest days. A cat water dish or shallow dish from a second hand store filled with pebbles both work great!
2. Understand Your Bees
Depending on the species, bees are considered either social or solitary. Honeybees and bumblebees are two commonly encountered species. Both are social bees. Honeybees are a non-native species originating in Europe or Asia. These are the only species of bee that produce honey harvested for commercial purposes. Bumblebees, on the other hand, are a native bee species. They tend to live in underground hives with populations of 150-200 bees . Honeybee hives can reach a population of over 70 000 bees during peak honey flow. In Alberta, we have over 300 native species of bees, most of which are solitary. If you have a native bee house, these are the bees you will be aiming to attract.
3. Provide a Home
Once you’ve attracted more pollinators to your yard, the probability your bee house will be used goes up. Now, where is the best place to put your native bee house? The ideal location provides an environment which is:
- Low traffic
- In morning sun
Solitary bee species tend to be shy and skittish. Low traffic areas will allow the bees to feel safe. Providing shelter can help them avoid predators such as birds. Early morning sun is helpful to give them an earlier start to the day.
If you can identify the species you have in your yard, do a bit of research on their preferences to figure out an ideal location for your bee house. I’ve provided some resources below to help you get started. For example, mason bees use mud to seal their eggs in, so having moist soil nearby is a must. Sources of pollen and nectar within 300 feet of the house is also helpful for mason bees as that is their greatest foraging distance . A good location for your bee house if you’d like to attract mason bees could be at the back of a flower bed you don’t weed often. Other good locations may include a fairy garden, on a tree, on a building, or on a post. If the bees aren’t moving in after a season and you have a lot of bees in your yard, try somewhere else!
Encouraging pollinators to visit your yard can be an extremely rewarding experience. By implementing the ideas in this article, I’m sure your yard will be buzzing in no time! Good luck!
- Alberta Native Bee Council
- Apiaries and Bees for Communities
- Bee Identification Guide (with a focus on Edmonton)
- Lethbridge Bee Enthusiasts