Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2004
Regional Report

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This happy honeybee has legs adorned with bubbles of pollen. In the process, she is making sunflower seeds for me!

The Bees are Back!

Although many people shrink away from bees because of the possibility of a sting, without them as pollinators, many of our crops would produce little or no fruit. It is so thrilling to me to see a bee these days because of the devastation of their populations in recent years due to a tracheal mite. But they are coming back!

Bees of all types act as unwitting carriers of pollen from flower to flower. Sticky pollen adheres to a bee's body while she seeks nectar at the base of a flower. When she visits the next flower, the pollen is rubbed off on the sticky stigma, pollinating the flower and making a fruit develop. And bees only sting when provoked. Mostly they just want to go about their business of foraging for nectar and pollen.

Worker bees may make foraging trips of up to 3 miles, where they may collect from 100 to 1000 flowers. Although they visit many flowers, on any single trip they visit only flowers of the same species. This habit makes for superb cross-pollination.

Bee Attractants
In order to lure bees, flowers often advertise their nectar and pollen with elaborate markings on their petals, somewhat like lights on a runway. Often these markings are invisible to us, but they are in the ultraviolet spectrum that bees see very well.

Bees see red flowers as gray but are enticed by ultraviolet patterns. Some flowers have evolved so the bee has to hang upside down to reach the nectar, getting pollen on her belly as she shakes the flower.

Bee-pollinated flowers have strongly contrasting color patterns, such as the yellow and blue of forget-me-nots, orange and blue of lupines, and the yellow and violet of pansies. The colors bees seem to be attracted to most are purple and blue, with yellow and orange as second favorites. Bee flowers often have a minty fragrance, and this coupled with the usual blue and purple shades makes herb flowers particular favorites.

Plant Lures
Here is a list to get you started attracting bees to your garden.

Herbs: borage, catnip, hyssop, lavender, mint, sage, thyme

Perennials: aster, butterfly weed, coral bells, goldenrod, lobelia, lily, penstemon, purple coneflower, salvia

Annuals: balsam, cleome, cosmos, lantana, marigold, nicotiana, snapdragon, sunflower, sweet alyssum, verbena

Trees and shrubs: butterflybush, dogwood, honeysuckle, linden, serviceberry, and sumac

Fruits: apple, blueberry, sour cherry, pear, persimmon, plum, raspberry

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