Thursday, August 20, 2009

Attract bees to keep garden healthy

Attract bees to keep garden healthy
August 16, 2009

BY DORIS TAYLOR - Special to the Sun-Times
Even when the stock market is in the doldrums, there's a whole world of buying, selling and trading going on as close as your own yard. Here, flowering plants and pollinators trade pollen and nectar for reproduction services.

Many homeowners call the Plant Clinic at the Morton Arboretum with questions about removing pests -- like Japanese beetles or ground-nesting bees -- from their yards, but not many call asking how to attract beneficial pollinators to their yards. But we should all be thinking about that. Pollinating insects and other critters are essential to home gardeners, particularly for growing fruits and vegetables.

"If you want the best production from your plants, you need honey bees or other pollinators to visit your garden," says Charles Lorence, beekeeper at the Arboretum, who raises more than one million honey bees to make the Arboretum's honey.

A variety of insects and animals pollinate plants, including butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds and bats. But the most important pollinators are the bees, especially honey bees.

To attract honey bees, Lorence suggests including plants they love, such as purple coneflower, blazing star, milkweed and raspberry, as well as herbs such as mint, lavender, borage and comfrey. Shrubs include privet, sumac, barberry, honeysuckle and burning bush. Bees like trees, too, especially linden, crabapple, tuliptree, redbud and orchard fruit trees, such as apple, pear and cherry.

For free information about growing requirements, visit "Plant Advice" at You'll also want to provide a water source. "It can be a bird bath, a dripping faucet, or a pan full of fresh water," says Lorence.

The process works like this: Flowering plants, including many trees and shrubs, attract pollinators in any way they can, including pollen, nectar, oils, resins, and fragrances. In return, pollinators move pollen from flower to flower, so those plants can produce nuts, seeds, fruits or vegetables to ensure their reproduction.

Avoid using chemicals in your yard, including insecticides and lawn herbicides, advises Lorence. If you must use them, avoid spraying during the day when bees are foraging.

You might take it a step further and actually raise honey bees. Chicago resident Lisa Hish decided to try beekeeping this summer out of her interest in the environment. "I am a well-researched, but novice beekeeper," she says. "I have a traditional frame hive that is filled with gentle Italian honey bees. I haven't been stung yet."

Hish, director of the health program at the Tai Chi Center of Chicago, is using that hive and another "top bar" hive that doesn't produce honey to teach her students about bees' role in our environment. Hish says seven of her neighbors recently expressed interest in keeping a hive on their property that she would maintain as part of what she calls a "bee trail."

"In our neighborhood, there are lots of families with young kids who are concerned about the environment and the future we are handing down to them," says Hish.

Doris Taylor manages the Plant Clinic at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Bookmark and Share

No comments: