CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring into gardening by getting started on Pollinator Habitat!


Posted By Abi Saeed, Garfield County Extension Agent: Agriculture, Horticulture, and Natural Resources

Just like us, pollinators need two main things in order to survive: food (floral resources) and shelter (nesting materials and habitat).

Solitary Bee on a Black-Eyed Susan (Photo: Abi Saeed)

Pollinators (like bees, butterflies, birds, bats, etc.) have a huge impact on us! They play a role in our agriculture, economy, wildlife, and plant diversity. Bees are the most important of all these pollinators because of a key part of their anatomy: the fuzziness. Bees are covered with branched hairs on various parts of their body. These hairs allow them to be the incredible pollen-carrying critters that we know and love!
Colorado is home to 946 different bee species. A majority of these bee species rely on floral resources in the environment. Most of these species are also solitary, and live in individual nests, as opposed to their social counterparts: honey bees. This means that this group of wild bees, all need a place to build their nest (either in the ground, or in cavities).
Due to increased development, these nesting resources are fewer and farther in between.

Although it is always a good idea to incorporate pollinator-friendly plants, encouraging pollinators in your landscape involves more than just flowers, as habitat is equally important. This is especially critical for wild bees that nest in the ground and in existing cavities.

Here’s how to add ‘Bee Habitat’ to your gardens:
Ground Nesting Bees:
Ground Nesting Bee emerging from her nest. (Photo: Abi Saeed)
70% of bees nest in the ground. By leaving some bare patches of undisturbed soil (it does not need to be large area, and can be tucked out of the way) you are creating safe ground nesting bee habitat available to those extremely important native pollinators. Although mulch is a useful tool for your garden beds, it creates additional obstacles for a ground nesting bee to get to some actual ground in which she can make a nest. You can still use mulch in your gardens, but leave some areas uncovered to allow direct soil access for bees.

Cavity Nesting Bees:
A 'Bee Hotel' showcasing the variety of nest materials that
can be utilized by cavity nesting bees in the landscape.
These include: Bamboo reeds, cardboard and paper tubes,
drilled blocks and bundles of twigs.
(Photo: Abi Saeed)
Cavity nesting bees (making up 30% of bee species) can be just as simple to accommodate! Encourage them in your gardens by creating ‘Bee Houses’ made from wood, reeds, cardboard tubes, and a container to put them all in. These can be as simple or as complicated as you would like, but make sure that you follow some of these guidelines if you are building your own ‘bee hotels’. 
Don't feel inspired to build your own? You can always purchase solitary bee nesting boxes, or bee hotels from a variety of suppliers. Just make sure that the bee hotels fit the specifications needed to host happy and healthy bees. Some of the most important criteria to consider: the depth of the tubes/reeds (make sure they are 4-8 inches deep) and the width/diameter of the tubes (varying in size between 1/8 - 3/8 inches will attract a diversity of Mason and Leafcutter Bee species.
Placement: opt for a sturdy placement on a wall or shed, in an out-of-the-way area. Make sure that the structure is placed 3-5 feet above the ground, and away from bird feeders and water spouts that will drain excess moisture. South and/or South-East facing is best, where bees have access to early morning sun and warmth throughout the spring season.
And, as with any bee habitat: make sure that there are plenty of flowering plants nearby for the bees to access nectar and pollen!

Additional Resources:

http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/insect/05616.pdf
http://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/insect/05615.pdf
https://pollinators.msu.edu/publications/building-and-managing-bee-hotels-for-wild-bees/
http://msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/files/Pollinator_habitat.pdf

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