Before a flower can set seed or form fruit, it needs to be pollinated. Though some plants are pollinated by bats, birds, butterflies, moths, and wasps, most of the work is done by bees.
Bees are in serious trouble, though. Their numbers are in sharp decline, mainly because of shrinking habitat. Fortunately, bees have some dedicated advocates like the Xerces Society. And home gardeners can help too. Here's what you can do to promote a bee-friendly environment in your garden.
Grow plants that bear flowers with plenty of nectar and pollen. Some native bees and native plants, including penstemon and salvia, are literally made for each other.
Old-fashioned, heirloom-type flowers like bee balm, black-eyed Susan, cleome, sunflower, and zinnia are also excellent; they have more pollen and nectar than highly developed hybrids.
Lavender, rosemary, thyme, and many other herbs also have blossoms that bees favor.
It's also helpful to include a large range of colors in your garden, especially blue, violet, white, and yellow.
Aim to have something in bloom from early spring to late fall so that winged visitors are never without nourishment.
One of the biggest challenges bees face is finding suitable nesting sites. We're not suggesting you house honeybee colonies; that's for professionals.
But the majority of our approximately 4,000 species of native bees (honeybees are a European import) are solitary ― essentially, single mothers raising their young alone. Having no hive to defend, they're not aggressive and rarely sting.
About 70 percent of native bees are ground nesters. A small patch of bare earth in a sunny spot ― as little as 1 square foot ― is all they need. When mulching your garden, be sure to leave some bare areas.
The remainder are mostly wood nesters: They'll occupy holes in trees bored by beetles, or they'll move into nesting blocks like the one shown opposite. The female bees will lay their eggs in the holes, then seal them; their offspring will emerge next spring to carry on.
Next: how to make a nesting block