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Bee-utiful flowers to grow at home

  • Hedgerows of old garden roses attract honeybees galore at the Amador County home of rose growers extraordinaire Steve and Susie Jones in Fiddletown, Calif., on Thursday, May 25, 2017. (Manny Crisostomo/Sacramento Bee/TNS)

  • A bumblebee comes in for a landing on flowers in Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. AP



For the Monitor
Friday, July 14, 2017

Populations of honey bees – that all important pollinator of fruit and vegetable crops – are declining. Factors such as habitat loss, pesticide use, and diseases have taken a toll on these unsung heroes of the horticultural world.

Luckily for home gardeners, there are plenty of native pollinators that can pick up where the honey bees left off. There are roughly 200 species of wild bees living in New Hampshire, including 10 types of bumblebees. Many kinds of flies, certain wasps, and even butterflies can act as pollinators.

By attracting a diversity of these beneficial insects, pollination in your garden will be improved and yields of crops like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers and berries will be increased.

For many gardeners, especially those allergic to bee stings, the idea of attracting more bees to their yard seems crazy, but these industrious pollinators rarely sting. They are too busy with the work at hand, gathering the pollen and nectar they need to survive.

Bee-friendly

There are three important things you can do to make your garden more welcoming to pollinating insects:

Provide them with nectar and pollen rich plants including native plants, heirloom flowers, and kitchen herbs.

Ensure that they have water and nest sites.

Stop poisoning them with pesticides.

Go native

Creating a habitat that draws these insects to your garden is easy.

The native pollinators in our region have co-evolved with the native plants in our region, so look to local wildflowers to draw them to your yard. More and more farmers are planting wildflower strips alongside their crops to serve as sources of pollen and nectar.

To maintain the populations of pollinators, it is important to have plants in bloom all season long.

For early bloom, try growing sweet alyssum, larkspur, dianthus and lupine. Midseason flowers can include gaillardia, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, monarda, coreopsis, daisies and cosmos, and to carry the bees until frost grow some sedums, salvias, yarrow, sunflowers, Agastache and cleome.

Even a small garden can support local pollinators. A little bee habitat can be grown in a 10-by-10 foot patch and still be beneficial. Honeybees and butterflies will show up too. If you plant it, they will come.

Herbal appeal

It is not necessary to grow only native plants. Many of the culinary and medicinal herbs that we find so useful in the garden can do double-duty by attracting native pollinators and providing them with nourishment too. Common herbs such as rosemary, lavender, dill, mint, oregano, marjoram and borage are excellent for attracting pollinators.

Home sweet home

Most native pollinators nest underground so it is important to have some open areas. The squash bee will even nest right underneath your squash plants if there is a gap in the mulch. Many others nest in cavities in trees and hollow plant stems. Bumble bees often make their homes in abandoned mouse and vole tunnels, while others prefer piles of rocks. An easy nest to make for the orchard mason bee is just a group of drinking straws or sections of bamboo bundled together in a waterproof container or a series of small holes drilled in a block of wood. Place these nest sites at least 3 feet above the ground in a shady, protected location near your fruit trees or on the side of a barn or shed.

Small bees may fly only a few hundred yards from their nest when foraging, while large bees, such as bumblebees, will travel a mile or more in search of food. Mixing pollen and nectar plants among your fruits and vegetables will keep bees close to the plants you want them to pollinate. Some of these plants are natural companions, helping each other to grow better such as summer savory and beans, cucumbers and sunflowers, borage and strawberries, caraway and peas, basil and peppers, or parsley and tomatoes.

Bee kind

The most important pollinator friendly thing you can do is to stop using poisonous pesticides in your garden. Systemic poison will make the entire plant toxic. Pesticide residue has been found in pollen and nectar.

Bees are vital to our food supply; more than ⅓ of all the fruits and vegetables we eat need to be pollinated by bees. Without them, we could have a fruitless fall.

To learn more about bees in New Hampshire, visit beesofnewengland.com.

Upcoming garden tours

Three gardens in the Merrimack Valley will be open for touring July 22 and 23 as part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days program.

Robert Gilmore’s property Evergreen in Goffstown is a 1-acre masterpiece, which includes more than 400 rhododendrons. His clever use of berms and looping paths makes the lot seem like a large secluded woodland garden when it is actually on an in-town lot.

Danielle Durocher’s suburban garden in Windham includes a multi-level pond, extensive stonework and many perennial beds.

New to the tour this year is the Landt garden in Epsom. It has large beds of flowering plants surrounding the restored 18th-century farm buildings. Other features to look for are the koi pond which is fed by a waterfall and a 150-year-old horse chestnut tree.

All the gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day and admission to each is $7 per person. For more information, call the Garden Conservancy at 1-888-842-2442 or visit their website at gardenconservancy.org for directions to the gardens.