Encourage Solitary Pollinators in your Garden

A flower must be pollinated to reproduce. Pollen moves from the anthers to the stigma in some way;  wind, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and flies all do this vital job. About 1/3 of all our food crops and 90% of all flowering plants rely on animal (this includes insects) pollinators. ’Solitary’ pollinators are insects which do not live in hives or nests with others of their kind.

Sadly, pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and fragmentation of habitat. Fragmentation refers to the isolation of one area of habitat from others, often caused by deforestation and human habitation.

There are simple ways to encourage pollinators to live in your garden.

  • Plant a variety of native flowering plants which will bloom throughout the season
  • (Dandelions are flowers which bloom very early and although they are not the best source of nutrition for bees, are still valuable. This doesn’t make me love the dandelions in my grass, but makes me feel a bit better, since I have LOTS.)
  • Avoid use of pesticides and herbicides.
  • Don’t clean up your garden in fall, and don’t clean up too early in spring. The insects need places to spend the winter, then need to warm up in spring before they venture forth.
  • Leave a little ‘mess’ in your garden year ‘round. A pile of twigs and leaves in a quiet corner, or a stump with peeling bark can provide a home for insects.
  • Avoid use of landscape cloth. Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences says “70%  of all the 20,000 species of bees nest underground”.
  • Have water available for bees and other insects. A shallow glass or ceramic dish with a few pebbles and water will do the trick. Clean the container regularly and change water daily.
  • Build and maintain a bee hotel.

Insect Hotel

This is a human-built structure designed to augment habitat for pollinator insects. It can be large or small, complex or simple and provides shelter for bees, butterflies, moths, lady bugs, beetles, flies. If long hollow spaces made of plant stems are part of the design, solitary bees will lay eggs in them.

An insect hotel is best made of natural materials: untreated wood,dry leaves, stems, dry grasses, vines, drilled wood and bark. Some people use bamboo of different sizes, cut to approximately 6 inches in length. A milk carton would make a snug hotel! The structure needs to have a backing or be placed against a wall so the wind will not whistle through. If you pack the materials in tightly enough, they will not fall out. However, I put chicken wire over my bee condo (below) because the squirrels in my garden are curious, determined, destructive and prolific.

Avoid using plastic straws since they will hold moisture and encourage mould and fungi.

A bee hotel needs to be somewhat sheltered, facing the sun and off the ground at least 3 feet. Further reading tells me that pine cones are not ideal, so I will replace mine with hollow stems.

A bug hotel must be maintained. Clear out dead cells (bees failed to hatch and hollow stem is plugged), and any material which has mildewed at the end of the summer. Check in spring after winter inhabitants have left. All material will need to be replaced after 2 or more years to avoid build up of mould, mites and parasites.

Bee hotels can be purchased, but building one is fun. Do some research to make sure you are optimizing the opportunities for the insects. There are a few suggested websites below.







P.S. Solitary bees are unlikely to sting. They just want to be left alone.

Submitted by Leslye Glover