If you’re lucky enough to have native ground bees nesting in your yard, you might be wondering if these bees are going to help pollinate your flowers. Well, it turns out that…
Ground bees are pollinators. The bees spend time collecting nectar and pollen from flowers, which is when they pollinate crops, fruits, vegetables, trees, and other plants in the area. Most trees and plants need insect pollination to grow strong fruits and vegetables, or to make viable seeds.
It turns out that bees are the most important pollinators of all, and they have a very unique way to get pollen out of very small holes. Let’s find out why ground bees are beneficial insects and how to attract more of them to your yard so you can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
How pollination works
In simple terms, pollination is when the pollen of one flower is moved to another flower of the same species. The pollen fertilizes the second flower, so it can grow fruit or make a seed. Some plants can pollinate themselves, but most need help from a pollinator, such as bees.
Pollinators are insects or animals that carry pollen from one flower to another, helping fertilization to occur.
Why bees are the most important pollinators
Bees are not the only pollinators – bats, birds, butterflies, beetles, moths, small mammals, flies, and wasps also pollinate plants and trees. But bees are the most important pollinators of them all for two reasons:
Bees go out to collect pollen
Bees (and a few wasps) collect pollen to eat and take it back to their nest. A flower’s pollen is in its anthers, so bees make a point of coming into contact with the anthers to get to the pollen. This makes pollination much more likely as the bee moves between hundreds of flowers, purposefully collecting and accidentally transferring pollen along the way.
Other insects eat the nectar in flowers or even the flowers themselves, but they don’t actively collect pollen like bees do. When these insects sit on a flower, they don’t make sure they come into contact with the anthers. These insects may or may not pick up and transfer pollen as they feed on flowers.
Bees collect pollen from the same flower species
Bees like to visit one plant species many times on a single trip when they are out collecting pollen. This is called “flower constancy”. This habit means that pollination between flowers of the same species is much more likely.
On the other hand, insects will stop and visit any flowers along the way, without worrying about flower species.
What is buzz pollination?
Pollen is stored in a flower’s anthers. Some anthers have small pores in them, and the pollen inside cannot easily leave the anther. Sometimes the wind or other insects shake the flower enough to release a small amount of pollen, but some bees have evolved to use vibrations on these flowers to quickly and efficiently reach the pollen.
During buzz pollination, the bee holds the flower’s anthers in its jaw and pulses its wing muscles, not its wings, to shake the flower, which releases pollen inside. The bee collects the pollen and goes on to fertilize other flowers.
One of the biggest buzz pollinators is the ground nesting bumblebee. In fact, a bumblebee can create a visible cloud of pollen around a flower during buzz pollination!
Here’s a slow-motion video of a bumblebee using buzz pollination to release the pollen in a flower:
Over 20 000 species of flowering plants rely heavily on buzz pollination, including some wildflowers, tomato plants, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries.
Why ground bees are important
A beneficial insect is any insect that does something to maintain a healthy natural ecosystem. Some beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, eat destructive pests so they don’t cause too much damage.
Ground bees are beneficial insects because:
- They pollinate plants and trees. This ensures that strong, healthy fruits and seeds can grow, to make more plants and trees.
- New plants and trees from bee-pollinated seeds become food and shelter for other insects and animals.
- Fruits pollinated by ground bees grow more abundantly, and they are stronger, more uniform, and healthier.
- Pollination keeps plants flowering, making our gardens and natural areas more beautiful.
- Plants that have been pollinated by bees have a lot of nutrients in them that are important for us to stay healthy, such as vitamin E.
- About one-third of all the food we eat relies on insect pollination. This includes meat and dairy products, as livestock eat plants that must be pollinated to reproduce.
How to attract ground bees to your garden
But if you’re convinced that ground bees are an important addition to the ecosystem, there are a few simple things you can do to attract more of these native bees to your backyard:
Plant native plants in your garden
Ground nesting bees enjoy pollen and nectar from native plants. Choose plants that attract wild bees, not just honey bees, if you want more ground bees. It’s also important to choose plants that flower in early spring, when ground bees are active above ground.
Choose plants with different colored flowers
Bees are attracted to colors as they know that bright flowers contain sweet nectar and pollen for them to eat. Plant flowers in your backyard that are blue, yellow, purple, or white to attract the most native bees.
Keep plant species in groups
Ground bees like to visit many flowers of the same species when they are out collecting nectar and pollen. It’s a good idea to have a lot of plants of the same species in your yard, so the bees can visit many flowers in one outing and pollinate them all.
Put plants in sunny areas
Most bees enjoy sunshine, so choose a sunny spot for your flower beds, vegetable gardens and orchards.
Bumblebees, one of the most important ground bee pollinators, don’t mind venturing out on a cold and overcast day. But you won’t see many other native bees nearby until the sun comes out again.
Don’t use chemical pesticides
Pesticides kill bees and should be avoided at all costs during bee season, which is early spring. It’s better not to use any chemicals or pesticides around your yard at this time, even if they are labelled “bee-friendly”.
Leave areas with dry soil
Ground nesting bees build their nests in dry, well-drained soil. If you see any ground bee nests in your yard, leave these areas well alone while the bees are active. Do not water the area, mow there, or dig nearby.
This is not because ground bees are dangerous, but rather because you might upset the bees and chase them away.