The Bees and Butterflies Are Thirsty—So We Built Ours a DIY Watering Hole
Wait until you see how easy it is to give your pollinating friends a much-needed drink.
Every summer, I get excited when I see the first Monarch butterfly flutter into my garden. It’s about the size of a teacup, and, if female, she heads to the milkweed to lay her eggs. Once the little green gems hatch, I take a daily break to watch caterpillars as they munch away, form a golden-tinged chrysalis, and finally emerge as a new butterfly. The whole process is so engaging, I like to think of it as Monarch Must-See TV.
I get equally excited about bees, especially because over the years I’ve realized they want little to do with me, and perform pollination miracles on a daily basis. I grow figs, Meyer lemons, tangerines, tomatoes, oranges, cucumbers, and more, but it’s the raspberries that really get the bees going. Once white blossoms arrive, the berry bushes hum with life, and I can literally stick my hand in to pick a ripe, red berry without getting so much as a buzz in my direction.
So what can I do to help the pollinators I love so much? Not use pesticides, of course. I can also plant milkweed, preferably native, or, if not, trim it back in the fall. And I can buy these special invertebrates a drink.
Okay, So Why Do Bees and Butterflies Need Water?
Bees need water to digest food and to dilute crystalized honey. They also use it in hives to create an evaporative cooler system. They do this by spreading a film of water over a cell containing a baby bee (this is called a “sealed brood”), and line the edges of cells that contain larva and eggs. Next bees fan like mad until evaporation lowers the temperature. Considering the heat in my office, it might be time to let the bees in the house and see if they do any better than my air conditioning unit. One added benefit of a watering station: Bees return to the same spot over and over, which helps if you happen to have a swimming pool, where they might otherwise drown.
Butterflies—particularly the males—like to “puddle” for hydration and minerals, especially in the middle of a drought (check) and high heat (check). Honestly, the thought of butterflies liking puddles just like Peppa Pig is adorable enough to make this project worth doing.
What You’ll Need
- A plant saucer—a glazed one will hold the water better than terra cotta—a shallow dish, a pan, a plate, or a cool mid-century style bowl your best friend gave you as a gift, never suspecting that you would turn it into in invertebrate mini bar. No matter what vessel you choose, it’s important the water won’t be too deep, or your friends will drown!
- Butterflies mainly want the minerals that leach into the water, so you’ll need stones, sand, soil, or all of the above. I made my water station with stones, because…I had stones.
- For bees, rock on! They can’t swim (neither can butterflies for that matter) and need a place to perch. Other choices could be marbles or glass rocks.
- A flowerpot to act as a stand.
- Sea salt or mineral salt, like Epsom.
You can make your water station on a table if won’t be too heavy to move, or make it in place. Your station’s ultimate destination can be near flowers like milkweed, zinneas, salvia, or Brazilian verbena, but anywhere in your garden that’s not too exposed is fine, too.
Put your shallow vessel atop your overturned flower pot.
Place your rocks—or whatever material you’ve chosen—inside. Be sure to leave lots of perching room.
Pour in clean water.
Add a sprinkle of salt, which will attract both butterflies and bees. (Don’t add sugar or honey. Not only could you get hundreds of bees, the colony could get lazy, pollination will suffer, and they’ll make watery honey.)
Told you it was easy!
Maintaining Your New Station
If you’re using sand only, keep your station moist and don’t let puddles form on the top. If you’re using rocks only, replace the water every few days to get rid of any mosquito eggs and larvae. Put a sprinkle of salt in once a week, or with water changes. Just like that, you’re done. Enjoy the show!