Conserving water and helping bees are goals shared by many gardeners. Given California's current extreme to exceptional drought status, it's time to re-visit the best low water plants for bees. Haven scientists are nearing the end of a long-term project examining bee preference for commonly used landscape plants. We've focused on low-water plants for northern California, while our San Diego-based colleagues have focused on southern California plants.
One of the consistently most-preferred plants has been Russian sage, Salvia yangii, formerly Perovskia atriplicifolia (read about its reclassification here). It's been either the first, second, or third most attractive plants to honey bees, and second, third, and sixth most attractive plant to native bees over the course of our observations.
Native to central Asia, this plant copes well with hot, dry conditions as well as extreme cold. It blooms from late spring to frost, providing a season-long bee resource. Like most members of the Lamiaceae, it serves only as a nectar source. Pair it with a complimentary colored pollen-providing plant in pink or red, like the coneflowers shown here, for both garden interest and bee nutrition.
It's that time of year: hurricane-force winds one day and beautiful spring weather the next. Here's what's happening in the Haven in March:
We've finished our winter pruning and are eagerly awaiting the flowers that will follow. Our winter-blooming plants are going strong, providing vital food for the honey bees at the Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Facility next to the Haven. Some top winter-blooming plants for bees include rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus -- yes, rosemary is now a salvia!), germander (Teucrium fruticans),
Our irrigation system is always given a going-over in the winter to ensure there are no leaks and that the precious water is being used as efficiently as our system will permit. We'll be working on this throughout March.
This is the start of the time when the Haven changes almost weekly. If you're planning a visit, things really get going in late March, and the garden remains at its best through the end of May. Thanks to a generous donor, we had the funds to replant one of our display beds this winter. We'll be using additional support from our Crowdfund campaign to refresh our demonstration orchard.
If you'd like to plan your own bee garden, you'll find a searchable plant list on our website. The list includes bloom time, bee resources provided, Sunset growing zones, and water and light requirements. In addition to our full plant list, you'll find several targeted (e.g. low-water, shade, etc.) bee plant lists here.
Yolo County has moved into a lower COVID tier, and we hope to resume guided tours by the last week of March. Pending approval by the University and COVID restrictions on group size, we look forward to welcoming tours back to the Haven. The garden remains open for individual visitors.
In the meantime, we've loaded more videos to our YouTube channel; look for more throughout March.
Thanks to everyone who donated, shared, or otherwise supported our February fundraising effort through Crowdfund UC Davis. We've nearly reached our goal of $2500. Contributions may be made here through February 28. Thank you!/div>/div>/div>
Our understanding of Russian sage's native habitat remains unchanged. It's still not from Russia, but is native to grassland areas in western China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. These hot, dry, sunny areas have summer weather similar to California's Central Valley so it does well in our gardens.
Here are links to some of the scientific papers describing these changes for those who wish to learn more:
Salvia yangii. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Link here.
Taxon. 2017. Salvia united: The greatest good for the greatest number. Read here.
American Journal of Botany. 2012. Phylogenetics, biogeography, and staminal evolution in the tribe Mentheae (Lamiaceae). Read here.
Please consider supporting our Crowdfund UC Davis campaign. We rely on donations and grants to keep the Haven and this blog going to share accurate, science-based information about bees and gardens. Thank you!
UPDATE March 17, 2020
Due to coronavirus restrictions, all programs at the Haven have been canceled through May. The September pruning class remains open for registration. We will reschedule the spring classes if possible. Thank you for your understanding.
I'm excited to announce our 2020 class schedule at the Haven, which includes old favorites as well as a new class. Continual learning and experimentation are at the core of what gardeners do, and I hope these offerings will help you expand your knowledge and success as a bee gardener. I'll be the instructor for all classes.
First up is our popular Planting the Bee Garden class. Bee pollination brings us much of our food and supports most of our wild plants. Interest in helping bee pollinators has never been greater, but what can you do in your own garden to make sure it is bee friendly? We'll review the basics of bee biology as a foundation for understanding how garden design and plant selection can be optimized for bees.
We'll also learn about some of the latest research on bees and gardens and how to incorporate this into your garden. The class will conclude with a tour of the Haven for a hands-on look at plants and bees. Registration includes light breakfast and snacks and course handouts.
Returning from its initial offering last year is Bee Watching for Beginners. Observing and identifying live bees can be challenging. If you'd like to become more adept at identifying the bees in your garden, this is the class for you. We'll start with an overview of bee anatomy and learn how to distinguish bees from other insects.
We'll then look at key features of common bees that can be used to identify them in flight. The class will finish in the Haven for hands-on experience observing and identifying bees. Interested students will have the opportunity to use a microscope for closer examination of bee structure.
April 25, 12pm to 3pm, register here.
The final spring class is a new offering, Bee Photography. Bees are among the most challenging insects to photograph, and the goal of this class is to help you better document your own bee observations. We'll start with an overview of bee biology and movement in the garden, followed by a discussion of the tips and techniques used by insect photographers. Participants will have the opportunity to use some of the Haven's bee photography tools and to photograph identified bee specimens.
May 16, 12pm to 3pm, register here.
Also offered last year for the first time, Pruning the Bee Garden will be returning in the fall. Bee gardens are all about flowers, and pruning the Haven's plants is an essential part of creating ample flowers for our bees. In this class we'll learn about the physiology and science behind pruning of ornamental plants and fruit trees, discuss pruning strategies for increasing bloom, review pruning of California native shrubs, and practice pruning in the Haven.
The time for the class has been expanded from last year to allow a more in-depth lecture and ample time for student practice in the garden. Handouts and light refreshments included.
September 26, 9am to 12pm, register here.
The Haven is all about teaching, research, and outreach to save the bees. Our programs are consistently rated highly by our visitors; we've grown every year of our existence and would love for that to continue. For details about our past accomplishments, please see our annual reports: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014.
A grant that provided half of our support recently ended, and I am seeking your support to help keep these successful programs going.
What you can do:
1. Donate here. The Haven is supported solely by grants, donations, and volunteers. A generous Häagen-Dazs gift established the garden, but Häagen-Dazs does not provide ongoing support. Recent funding has come from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, the USDA, and the California Center for Urban Horticulture.
Individuals and local clubs such as the Roseville Better Gardens Club and the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association have also made much-appreciated donations.
If the 3500 people who've attended a tour, Haven event, or class so far this year each gave $10, we'd be covered for seven months. While large donations are great, many small donations are just as important.
2. Attend our fall fundraiser on September 21. Details will be posted soon on the Haven's web page.
Thank you. Together we can keep this unique garden going strong.