Many people think of bees simply as a summertime nuisance. But these small and hard-working insects actually make it possible for many of our favorite foods to reach the table. From apples to zucchini to the pumpkin in our pumpkin pies, we have bees to thank. Nearly 1/3 of our entire food supply relies on bees for pollination.
Bees are one of a myriad of other animals, including wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, bats, beetles, and birds, called pollinators. Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. These inserts and animals are crucial members of the ecosystem.
There are an estimated several hundred thousand flowering plant species, many of which depend on pollinators to reproduce (National Research Council 2007). Without bees to spread seeds, many plants—including food crops—would die off. The attributed value of crops that are directly dependent on insect pollination was estimated at $15 billion in 2009 in the United States (Calderone 2012).
Honey bees have been in serious decline for more than three decades in the United States, as noted in the National Academy of Sciences report Status of Pollinators in North America (National Research Council, 2007). Declines in the number of managed honey bee colonies used in honey production have been documented by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA 2014). Starting in the 1940’s when there were approximately 5.7 million colonies in the United States, the number of managed colonies used in honey production has declined to approximately 2.74 million colonies today.
Pollinator populations depend directly on plant populations, especially native plants. Effective habitat restoration must be appropriate for the desired pollinator species, affordable to establish in the short term, and self-sustaining in the long term.
Creating a bee-friendly garden complete with bee attracting plants does not have to be expensive. Here are some ideas and tips on how to obtain FREE plants for your garden that will attract pollinators and feed the bees.
Contact Your Local City Council or Conservation Organization
Inquire whether they have any native plants for free or low cost. Many local councils will provide one or two free trees or shrubs, as part of their mission to increase biodiversity in the region. Check that the specimen you select is appropriate, in terms of soil and size at full growth.
Did you know that if you live or own property within the City of Los Angeles, you are eligible to receive up to seven free shade trees from City Plants? Find out if you qualify here.
Search the Internet for Free Seeds
To help save the bees, a number of organizations are giving away free packets of wildflower seeds. Before planting, ensure the seeds are native to your area and check to see if they are good for bees and other pollinators.
Cheerios, in partnership with Veseys Seeds, is pledging to give away 100 million wildflower seeds to bring awareness to the alarmingly high rates of decline of bee colonies. Get your FREE seeds today by filling out the form on the Cheerios website.
Many bee friendly plants will propagate easily from cuttings. Try out single-petalled fuchsias, mints, penstemons and rosemary.
To make your cuttings, select healthy growth that’s 3 to 6 inches long. Try to make a sharp cut; mashing the stems may make it more difficult for the shoots to develop new roots. Clip off the leaves on the lower half of the shoot so you have a bare stem to insert into your potting mix. Immediately pot up your cutting in moist potting mix. Keep your cutting humid by loosely wrapping it in clear plastic or keeping it under a cloche. Some plants root more quickly than others, so be patient. On average, it takes a month or two for your cuttings to root and become established enough that you can plant them.
Divide Clumping Plants
Many clumps of bedding plants can easily be divided up, with no harm to the plant whatsoever. Bedding campanulas are an excellent example that respond well to being divided. Swap clumps with friends and relatives to get access to new varieties.
You have two options when dividing. You can dig up the whole clump, then separate it into several smaller clumps, or you can simply use a shovel to slice down and remove sections of the plant, leaving part of it intact. Generally, it’s better to dig up the whole clump and carefully split it into sections. Place the entire clump on a tarp in a shady spot, and check to see if any sections naturally split off. Some plants have roots that are easy to separate; others may be more difficult and will need to be pried or cut apart with tools. Prune away any dead and damaged tissue, and make sure each section has a portion of roots and leaves. If you are giving the divisions away, place them in containers and pack moist soil around the roots. Water them and keep them in a cool, shady spot. Plant the divisions as soon as possible. When replanting in the holes you’ve prepared, set the plants at the same depth they were in the original bed. Water the new divisions well, and keep them well watered throughout their first year.
It’s the ideal way to get free plants for next year! This sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people ignore this opportunity. If you don’t wish to plant them in your own garden, swap them with someone else, or plant them into pots and sell them at your local farmer’s market.
Divide and Swap Bulbs
Divide up your bulbs and swap them for other plants with friends and relatives. Or again, sell them at the local bazaar and use the money to purchase more plants!
Crowded foliage and diminished flowering are signs that the bulb clumps need to be divided. After the leaves die back, dig up the bulbs and carefully separate the offsets from the parents. Replant the bulbs immediately or store them in a cool, dry place until bulb-planting time in the fall.
Join a Gardening Group
You’ll meet other members interested in gardening and who are most likely happy to swap plants with you!