- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
Pollinators that hang around our gardens include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, and flies. While all these pollinators are important, bees make up about 50% of pollinators.
Native Bees Prominent Role
When you see bees in your garden, you likely see many European honeybees (Apis mellifera), who are crucially important to the Central Valley's agriculture since Honeybees pollinate 90% of the almond crop. But Honeybees are not the only bees in search of nectar in farmers' fields and our gardens. There over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States, with about 1,600 in California.
Native bees play an important role in pollinating our plants since they are 200 times more efficient at pollination than Honeybees. Studies in the Central Valley have shown three dozen or so native bee species provide sufficient pollination services for a single farm. For example, pollinating an acre of apples requires 60,000-120,000 Honeybees; the same area can be pollinated by 250-750 Mason bees (Megachile).
Social Characteristics and Nesting Habits
Most bees are solitary in nature, generally producing honey only for their own consumption and/or for their young. Nesting habits vary from social hives/colonies to solitary nesting in the ground or woody material.
- Social vs. Solitary bees:
o Solitary bees make up 99% of all bees in North America, with social bees making up less than 1%. Only Honeybees and Bumblebees are social, living in colonies, with all other bees being solitary. Most Honeybees are domesticated, living in hives. Bumblebees live in the wild, in colonies which are generally underground. Honeybee hives will have a population of 10,000-50,000 bees, while Bumblebees will have only 50-400 in their colonies.
- Ground nesting bees make up 70% of bees:
o Mining bees and Digger bees (Adrena): As their names indicate, these bees have a ground-nesting lifestyle. From the outside, the tunnels look like holes with a ring of loose soil around them and can be mistaken for small ant hills or earthworm mounds. Mining bees are active only in the spring for 4-8 weeks during which the females dig tunnels to lay their eggs and raise their young. Both bees are extremely docile, rarely stinging.
- Stem and wood nesting bees make up 30% of bees:
o Leafcutter bees (Megachilidae) use a “wrapper” of leaves, resin, and sand to build their nests in natural or artificial cavities. If you see some leaves in your garden with their distinctive circular “cut out,” you will know you have some in your area. They are about the same size as honeybees, but their bodies are black and furry while Honeybees are dark brown to black and yellow striped.
o Mason beesconstruct their nests from mud, preferring hollow stems or holes made by wood-boring insects. Some people hang bee “houses” with hollow tubes to attract these bees to nest in their yard.
Generalist vs. Specialist Bees
Some bees are generalists, getting their nectar from a wide variety of flowers. These include the Bumblebee and the Mason bee.
Other bees are specialists, feeding only from very specific flowers, such as the Squash bee (two genera: Peponapis and Xenoglossa) or the Sunflower bee (Megachile) with their common names indicating which type of flowers they favor.
Other Native Bees
Other bees you may see in your garden:
- Carpenter bees (Apidae): Females are shiny black and can sting, but only if provoked. Males are golden and can't sting. Their name derives from their nesting behavior; nearly all species burrow into hard plant material such as dead wood or bamboo. Occasionally they may nest in unpainted wood siding of buildings.
- Sweat bees (Halictidae): Sweat bees' common name is due to their tendency to land on and lick the sweat from people's skin! One of the coolest looking bees in this group is the green sweat bee, which has a shiny, iridescent exoskeleton. Most of these bees nest in the ground, though some nest in wood. Some species are cleptoparasites, meaning they will lay their eggs on food in another species' nest and after hatching, the larva kills the host's larva!
- Long-horned bees (Melissodes): With medium to large bodies, this non-aggressive group gets their names from the long antennae of the males, which females lack. Females have a solitary nest in the ground whereas males sleep outside, often spending the night in groups on the surface of a flower.
Bees are in Trouble
Some ways you can help:
- Plant a garden full of flowering plants to attract bees and other pollinators. Make sure you have something blooming during each of the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Whenever possible, plant native plants since native bees and plants evolved together.
- If you use a pesticide, choose one that is less toxic such as a horticultural soap or oil and spray in early morning or evening when pollinators are unlikely to be present. (https://ipm.ucanr.edu/GENERAL/pesticides_urban.html)
- Provide spaces for nesting bees, with bee houses and bare patches of soil, along with a source of water.
By providing a bee-friendly garden, you can help the vital native bee pollinators thrive.
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UCCE Master Gardener with Stanislaus County since 2020/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
While fairies are mythical, hummingbirds are real-life winged fairies of our gardens. We tend to think of just bees and butterflies as pollinators, but the tiny, jewel-like birds also play a crucial pollinator role. Hummingbirds co-evolved with native nectar plants, each benefiting the other. A keystone species (a species which other species in an ecosystem largely depend on, so if it disappeared the ecosystem would be severely altered), hummingbirds pollinate at least 20% of specialized indigenous plant species.
Hummingbirds have a very high metabolism and must eat all day. They consume about half their body weight each day while feeding. Nectar from 1,000-2,000 flowers provides 20% of a hummingbird's daily diet, which they drink with a fringed forked tongue in their long beak. Insects provide the bulk of their diet, which includes beetles, aphids, gnats, mosquitoes and wasps.
The smallest hummingbird, the Bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), is a native of Cuba. With a body about an inch long, it weighs the equivalent of 1/4th teaspoon of sugar! The “large” Giant hummingbird (Patagonia gigas) of western South America is about eight inches long (20 cm), weighing less than half of most sparrows.
California has about nine species of hummingbirds with four commonly seen species in the Stanislaus County area listed here in order of most abundant to the least:
- Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna): This permanent year-round resident is a common sight in many of our gardens. The colorful red-headed male is the largest and most prominent of our local hummingbirds. The fastest of all hummingbirds, it can fly up to 60 miles per hour. Males perform a death-defying courtship dive, plummeting to the ground at speeds and accelerations that put jet pilots to shame. Females build the nests and care for the young alone, having three broods a year.
- Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus): With its beautiful orange-red gorget (a hummingbird's brilliant throat feathers), these migrating birds are a beautiful sight in local gardens in the spring and fall. Unlike the green body feathers of other common species in our area, the male has copper-colored feathers. Nesting further north than any other hummingbird, they fly up to 2,000 miles (3,200 km) during their migratory journeys to Canada.
- Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri): Another migratory species, it spends winters in Central America while nesting here in the summers. The male has a black face with a purple gorget at the base of the chin. The female builds a well-camouflaged nest in a shrub or tree.
- Costa's hummingbird (Calypte costae): The smallest and least common of our local hummingbirds, it breeds and nests here in summers, spending winters in Baja California/western Mexico area. The male has a colorful purple gorget and neck.
A Hummingbird Friendly Garden
To make the sugar syrup combine one-part white cane sugar to four parts boiling water and let cool. Do not use honey, molasses, brown sugar, agave, artificial sugar, etc. as these can be harmful to hummingbirds. Food coloring is unnecessary since the red color of the feeder will attract the birds. If possible, place the feeders out of direct sunlight. Refill and clean feeders every 3-4 days (more frequently in hot weather) with a bottle brush, hot water, and a little white vinegar (which retards mold). Extra sugar syrup can be stored in refrigerator for a week or so.
In addition to sucrose, nectar provides additional sugars (glucose and fructose), along with compounds such as carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and oils which sugar feeders cannot provide. So, flowering plants that produce nectar should also be present in your garden to give hummingbirds a diverse, nutritious diet. Hummingbirds favor flowers that are tubular, in red, orange or bright pink colors. Some good choices include penstemons, fuchsias, red salvias, and bee balms.
A hummingbird friendly garden should also include trees and bushes for perching, hiding and nesting, water for drinking and bathing, and safety from domestic cats.
An excellent plant list resource provided by UC Agriculture & Natural Resources (UC ANR) and Master Gardener is Plants that Attract Hummingbirds – Zones 8 and 9: https://ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners/files/287098.pdf
Both the local Rufous hummingbirds and Black-chinned hummingbirds are among those considered to be at risk (https://www.audubon.org/news/how-climate-change-threatens-hummingbirds).
By providing backyard sanctuaries with feeders and native plants we can help support these valuable feathered fairies of our gardens, so they can continue to delight us and pollinate our plants.
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UCCE Master Gardener with Stanislaus County since 2020./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
On April 1, 2023, the La Loma Native Garden held its 3rd annual Pollinator Festival. Participants stopped by the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener booth to spin our “Pollinator Wheel” and learn about native insects and best landscaping practices to protect them.
If you are interested in learning more about native insects and pollinator plants, you can watch our classes on these topics on our YouTube Channel at http://ucanr.edu/youtube/ucmgstanislaus
All photos by Rachel Bahn, Master Gardener from the 2022 Class.
- Author: Anne Schellman
Date: Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Time: 9:00 am – 10:30 am.
Link: you'll be sent a link to log in with before the class.
Registration will close Tuesday, Dec 20 at 8:00 a.m.
Can't tune in live? Watch the recording the following week on our YouTube Channel.
- Author: Anne Schellman
Thanks to donations from readers like you, our Pollinator Gardening project raised a total of $1,000. This amount will go towards our garden signage and pathway. We've sent out narrowleaf milkweed seed packets, which you should receive in the mail soon. Now is a great time to plant these seeds! As you've read, milkweed is the sole food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars. We are excited about the possibility of seeing these gorgeous yellow, black, and white caterpillars in our garden in the near future!
Next steps for the Pollinator Garden include adding mulch (next week!), planting more plants, and figuring out best ways to label the plants. Many of the native plants have their original name tags, so feel free to stop by. The garden is located on the west side of the Stanislaus Building at the Ag Center.
In the coming weeks we will add pollinator plants that are not native, but that have the same water requirements.
If you visit, don't let the lack of pathways stop you! Stroll right through and take a look. The plants are small now, but we expect spring blooms, and in another year they will have doubled in size. We will continue to update you on the progress of the garden
Missed Giving Tuesday but still want to give? You still can. Please make checks out to:
UC Regents and send to:
UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardener Program
3800 Cornucopia Way, Ste A
Modesto, CA 95358
We still have plenty of milkweed seed packets left to send.