Save the Bees: Best Plants for Pollinators Native to Sacramento
Why all the buzz about bees? Bees are one of the natural world’s most industrious pollinators. Honey bees are responsible for around 80 percent of pollination worldwide, and various other species like bumblebees and carpenter bees handle much of the rest. Bees are a gardener’s best friend, ensuring that flowers will continue blooming every year and pollinating garden crops – especially fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Native flowers especially rely on the native bees they evolved alongside.
Unfortunately, honey bee populations worldwide are crashing, and many native bees are struggling, due in part to habitat loss, pesticides, nutrition deficiencies, and more. Luckily, there’s things you can do if you want to help save the bees, and in turn, help your local gardens grow and thrive! You can buy local honey from small farmers who practice sustainable beekeeping, minimize the use of chemical pesticides when possible, and plant a bee garden to help along local bees. A bee garden can range from a couple of window boxes with a few bee-friendly flowers to a full-blown wildlife sanctuary, so there’s something that just about everyone can do regardless of space considerations. What’s more, many bee-friendly flowers will attract butterflies. And bees love most flowering herbs and vegetables, if you want a vegetable garden as well.
More than 80 of California’s over 1,600 bee species call Sacramento their home. The most common native bee groups in Sacramento include cuckoo bees, leaf-cutting bees, long-horned bees, and mining bees.
Whenever possible avoid man-made pesticides and herbicides, especially when plants are in bloom. Instead, rely on natural methods like companion planting, which encourages beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs, and weeding. When planning your garden, try to stick to plants that are native to your region, since invasive species can quickly grow out of control and overrun your plot.
Also, think about getting your garden certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. The Federation can provide a wealth of information and tips to help you make the most of your plants and the environment you make for local bees.
All bees need a place to take cover and raise their young. Most native species are burrowers, and need a patch of bare soil or sand that isn’t tilled or mulched, and that will be safe from local foot traffic. You can either leave a bare spot in your yard or garden, or have a barrel with a mixture of soil and sand. Other species use pre-existing cavities for their homes, and need something like a wooden nesting box or a bundle of dried sunflower or bamboo stems. If you do set aside space, be sure to make it an area that is barricaded off and away from curious children or pets – stumbling onto a bee hive can be extremely dangerous for everyone.
If your garden doesn’t have room for a shelter, that’s okay – you can still provide food and water for nearby hives.
For a complete bee garden, you’ll need to provide a source of water. A well-maintained pond, a rain garden, or a shallow dish filled with pebbles and water will all work just fine. Be sure to avoid pools of standing water though, as these can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The thing bees will be getting the most from your garden is food, including both pollen and nectar. The majority of bee-friendly species produce both of these vital foods, though a few, like the California Poppy, just provide a quantity of pollen. Plants like sunflowers provide both, as well as a nice and wide place for bees to land. The best flowers are generally single headed flower tops (like sunflowers), rather than double headed flower tops with multiple layers of petals (like roses), since complex flowers tend to have less nectar that’s harder for the bees to get to.
It’s important to have flowers that bloom at a variety of times, to provide maximum coverage for different species and ensure a pretty garden throughout the seasons. The University of California at Berkeley suggests having at least fifteen to twenty different types of flower. Ideally, you should plant each type of flower in a patch measuring at least one meter by one meter, if you have the space. When picking out flowers, keep in mind their hardiness zones and water needs. Sacramento is in hardiness zone 9b and is fairly arid, so you’ll want heat-loving plants that don’t demand a lot of water.
Genuses and families
- Asteraceae (Compositae) family, like the California Sunflower (Helianthus californicus)
- Lamiaceae (mint family), like the native Tule Mint (or field mint) (Mentha arvensis) and monardellas (the Monardella genus)
- California Manzanitas (the Arctostaphylos genus)
- California Wild Lilacs (the Ceanothus genus)
- California Buckwheats (the Eriogonum genus)
- California Penstemons (the Penstemon genus)
- California Currants and gooseberries (the Ribes genus)
- California Sages (the Salvia genus)
- Yarrow (the Achillea genus)
- Golden Yarrow (the Eriophyllum genus)
- Willow (the Salix genus)
- Golden Rod (the Solidago genus)
- Snow Berry (the Symphoricarpos genus)
- Multiflowered Snapdragon (Antirrhinum multiflorum)
- California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
- Morning Glory (Calystegia macrostegia)
- Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
- Rabbit Brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
- Blue Lobelia (Lobelia dunnii serrata)
- Deerweed (Lotus scoparius)
- Gray Blue Bird Bush (Mahonia nevinii)
- Pine Bee Flower (Phacelia imbricata)
- Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana or Sambucus caerulea)
- California Figwort (Scrophularia californica)
- Hedge Nettle (Stachys bullata)
- Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum or Trichostema parishii)