1. Grow more gardens, fewer lawns
The sprawling bright green lawn has long been a fixture in the dream of American suburban utopia, but when it comes to supporting bees and their pollinating brethren, plain old grass is effectively a waste of space. “A lot of the time, lawns are food deserts for insects,” says Holly Walker. “If you can carve out more niches for flowering plants—particularly pollen-producing plants—that’s such a big deal.”
2. Plant native flowers
Planting locally indigenous plant species in your garden is win-win: you get to show off your hometown pride while simultaneously looking out for all the authentically American bees and other insects that are too often overshadowed by the ubiquitous nonnative honeybee. Oftentimes, flowering plants and pollinators evolve in tandem to optimize their mutualistic relationships. This means that introducing native plants to your garden will lead to a boost in pollinator efficiency, and will help perpetuate species diversity across the board.
3. Diversify your gardens in size, shape and color
When working to improve the well-beeing of your garden’s insects, the old adage “variety is the spice of life” is one you should take to heart. Just as bees themselves come in all shapes and sizes, so too do the plants that attract them. “We want to appeal to all our native bees, big and small,” Walker says, and that means growing plants of different shapes and heights, with flowers of different hues.
4. Take full advantage of the blooming season
We all know that April showers bring May flowers, but let’s not forget about the June to October flowers. By planting a mix of pollinator-friendly species with staggered bloom times, you can keep bees coming to your garden from spring through fall.
5. Create habitats for nesting bees
The idea of redefining garden beauty standards extends beyond winter. All throughout the year, pollinators are looking for habitats to call home, and you can help provide those if you make a little extra effort and embrace the wilder look Gagliardi advocates.
6. Provide sources of water
Anyone who grew up with a pool or birdbath out back can tell you that bees appreciate water. Water helps bees digest their food, and when conveyed home to a hive it serves several additional functions. Water can be used to regulate humidity among a colony of bees, and water brought back by multiple bees can be evaporated to generate an improvised air conditioning effect in the sweltering heat of summer.
7. Don’t mow so often
Fed up with mowing your lawn constantly? By all means, give it a rest. Not only will spending less time making your tedious rounds be a boon for you, it will also give insect life the opportunity to establish a toehold in what would otherwise be an environment impossible to thrive in. As you’ll recall from the first item on this list, lawns aren’t very helpful to bees as a rule, but if you must have a lawn, being a little less militant with your mowing works wonders. Smithsonian gardening buffs suggest that mowing every two to three weeks will keep your grass tidy while still allowing pollinators enough time to capitalize on what flowering plants do crop up before they disappear.
8. Avoid pesticides
Spraying pesticides liberally may seem like a quick and easy solution to keeping garden maintenance hassle-free, but doing so can come at a severe cost. “When researchers go in and do surveys of beehives and honey,” Holly Walker says, “they’re finding traces of fungicides, herbicides and pesticides in there.” In other words, bees are picking up harmful substances in gardens and bringing those substances back to their homes—sometimes with disastrous results.
9. Learn to love imperfection
Welcoming bees into your garden, while certain to enliven and strengthen it, will also force you to abandon the ideal of visually pristine leaves and soil. For James Gagliardi, the trick is to recognize that “imperfections” in your plants are in actuality something to take pride in, for they indicate that the resources you’ve cultivated are not going to waste.
10. Bees are awesome, but so are other pollinators
Smithsonian garden gurus are excited bees will be getting their moment in the spotlight this weekend, but they are also quick to point out that bees aren’t the only pollinators we should be looking out for. “Most people think of bees,” says Gagliardi, “but we want to promote moths and flies and beetles and all those good things too.” Insects tend to be stigmatized as icky and invasive, but all over the world, they are doing the quiet small-scale work needed to keep the biosphere on track.