How to Attract Bees and Other Native Pollinators With a Foraging Habitat

By designing a habitat with a diverse array of the right plants, planted in the right places, you can support and attract bees and other native pollinators.

  • “Attracting Native Pollinators” (Storey Publishing, 2011) is a comprehensive guidebook for people who want to protect and encourage the activity of the native pollinators of North America.
    Cover Courtesy Storey Publishing
  • When designing your pollinator habitat, take into consideration the flight range of pollinators. Small bees such as this sweat bee (genus Halictus) fly less far than large ones.
    Photo Courtesy Storey Publishing

Pollinators like bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths are a key part of our ecosystem — pollinating 70 percent of flowering plants — but they face many threats to their health and habitat. In Attracting Native Pollinators (Storey Publishing, 2011), The Xerces Society takes a proactive, practical, and straight-forward approach to dealing with this dilemma. In this excerpt from Chapter 6, they describe how to support and attract bees and other native pollinators by designing a foraging habitat.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Attracting Native Pollinators.

If you want to focus on how to attract bees and other native pollinators, one effective way is to increase the flowers available to them. The best way to do this is by cultivating a landscape that includes a diverse range of plants to provide pollen and nectar throughout the local growing season. Such habitat can take the form of designated pollinator meadows (“bee pastures”), butterfly gardens, hedgerows of flowering trees and shrubs, streamside and rangeland revegetation efforts, and even flowering cover crops or pollinator lawns.

Foraging Habitat Design

Once you have determined the location, shape, and size of your pollinator habitat, you can focus on the specifics of the planting, such as plant selection, plant density, how plants are organized, and the inclusion of grasses for weed control and soil stabilization.

Planting Layout

Research suggests that flower groupings (clumps) of at least 3 feet (1 m) in diameter of an individual species are more attractive to pollinators than species that are widely and randomly dispersed in smaller clumps. Large clumps of individual species are easier for flying pollinators to find in the landscape, especially in the case of small urban habitats or small pollinators with flight ranges as short as 500 feet (152 m). For a natural look, these clumps can be distributed at random in a landscape, rather than in regularly spaced straight lines. In a large area of habitat, planting clumps may be impractical and not necessarily important so long as flowering plants are abundant.

7/6/2013 3:25:58 PM

In trying to find some seeds at a local store which included milkweed that is the only plant which Monarchs will lay their eggs onto, I looked at 3 different big-name "Butterfly Blend" wildflower seed packets to find that NONE of them include MILKWEED.  I guess that I will have to go somewhere else, because the "big" blends are not taking that into account, which I am pretty surprised about...I also wanted to make a bee house, and have never heard of this.  I felt so ignorant, not knowing that most bees do not live in huge colonies, but are solitary.  I can't believe that these crucial facts are left out of almost all the gardening magazines that I have been reading.  No wonder that the bee habitat is getting smaller and smaller, and that of other beneficial insects.  Without them, we are doomed!  Can you continue to make us aware of very important things that other "gardening" magazines neglect to mention.

6/28/2013 12:41:42 PM

Just plant a Siberian Pea tree and you'll have busy, happy bees!  We have one on our farm in Washington State, and every spring it just hums with bees.

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