Melissa Williams's picture
Posted by Melissa Williams /
Gypsy Cuckoo bee - photo by Dr Sheila Colla
Can you tell a wild (native) bee from a honey bee? Did you know there’s a difference? Despite their importance, wild bees face unprecedented threats and urban habitats are proving more and more important for their populations. Fortunately there are some simple things you can do to help these vital pollinators!


In addition to their significant role in food security, bees -- particularly the wild ones -- are important pollinators of our native plants, including trees. Many of our native plants have co-evolved with certain wild bee species and rely on them to reproduce. But Ontario’s bee populations are declining. 


Native Bee


Luckily, there are simple things we can do in our yards to support wild bees in the city! Here are three ways to get started:

1. Design your garden with wild bees in mind: ensure there is a continuous succession of nectar- and pollen-producing plants flowering from spring through fall. Plant different flower colours, shapes and heights. Native bees are generally attracted to white, yellow, blue and purple flowers.


2. Keep existing habitat in your yard: in other words “let it bee”.  Leave dead stems on plants in fall so solitary bees can use them as nesting habitat. Where possible, leave cavities in the ground (left by rodents) or in trees for our only wild social bees (bumblebees) to nest in. These cavities also provide a good place for bees to hide during storms.


3. Avoid buying plants that have been pre-treated with synthetic pesticides: neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides can be very harmful to bees. Ask your nursery or plant supplier to confirm their plants are neonicotinoid-free.


Western Bumble Bee - Photo by Sheila Colla


If you live in Ajax, Toronto, or York Region, you can purchase a Native Bee Garden Kit through LEAF to easily create bee-friendly habitat in your yard! The kits contain a variety native shrubs and perennials that support wild bees, and come with garden plans to assist you with design and planting. LEAF also offers a variety of native trees and shrubs that support native bees through the Backyard Tree Planting Program


Let it Bee event poster


To learn more about the threats our wild bees are facing and the simple things you can do to help, join us on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at the North York Civic Centre for a presentation from native pollinator expert Sheila Colla, Ph.D.  Event details and registration here


Melissa Williams is LEAF's Program Manager.


Hi there, I live in a condo and have a balcony, which plants are best to attract bees? Thank you for your time and look forward from hearing from you soon!
Hi Christine! Thank you very much for your comment. When it comes to balconies with smaller spaces, there are still a number of things you can plant to attract native bees! You can start with some herbs- thyme, oregano, etc. in smaller planters or pots. Next you could try some smaller native perennials such as wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum var. sibiricum), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolia), Canada bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) or wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) to be planted in medium sized planters or pots. Finally, if you have the space to add a larger pot, you could even try a small native shrub such as the lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium). When planting, be sure to add some natural mulch at the base of the pots to create space for nesting! Good luck!

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