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It is the season for busy bees. Native bees and honey bees.

Honey bees are not native to North America but are spread from coast to coast and are an integral part of our agriculture.

They are managed pollinators for crops such as almonds. They are social and live as a colony in a hive that can be moved where needed for their pollination services.

We do have a native social bee, the bumble bee. They live in much smaller colonies. They are also important for their pollination services. They can be better than honey bees at pollinating crops such as tomatoes, peppers and blueberries that require buzz pollination. Bumble bees also do better in greenhouses and cool conditions.

Most of our native bees are solitary. Each female lays her eggs in one tunnel or stem and provisions the nest by herself. Many times the nests of individual females are in the same area, sandy or dirt bank. It is important you don’t cover up their nesting site with mulch.

The area will look busy with bees while the females are bringing back nectar and pollen to the nest. She will make nectar and pollen balls and lay eggs on them. Once she is done laying eggs, she will seal up the tunnel and the activity is done for the year. The eggs will hatch and the young will feed in the nest on the pollen and nectar left by the female until they develop and come out next year. They are not usually aggressive like yellow jackets.

The thing all bees have in common is the need for flowers and the food they provide. Flowers produce both nectar and pollen. We like the color, shape and scent of flowers and use for food the fruits and vegetables that follow some of them. But bees simply need the pollen and nectar.

Habitat loss is one of the biggest things affecting our bees. They need places to live, raise their young and to find food. They need flowers. Grass does not feed them. It may look nice to us, but unless your turf/yard mixes include flowers, you are not feeding the pollinators.

I like a lawn with spring beauties and other wildflowers in the spring and then clover and dandelions in the summer. Planting trees, shrubs and perennials that flower every year will help, too. Include native plants.

The most important early pollen source for spring are the trees. Pussy willows, Salix discolor, are good pollen sources for bees and also make lovely displays when you cut a few branches for taking inside.

Red maples, Acer rubrum, are lovely trees in yards with good fall color while being one of the first trees with pollen in the spring.

Wild plums, Prunus americana, have dainty white flowers and a pleasing light scent. You can also make plum jam from them.

Elderberry, Sambucus spp., is a good food plant for pollinators and makes a lovely jelly when mixed with apple juice.

You can make your yard pleasing to you and help feed the bees and other pollinators.

Happy planting.

Dr. Lesley Deem is director and teacher at the University of Illinois Pollinatarium and Department of Entomology. For more information about scheduling a visit to the Pollinatarium virtually or in person, email

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