As the decline of pollinators becomes ever more prominent in the news, many people want to know how they can help the bees. Great! All bees need 2 things: food and habitat.
All bees feed on 2 flower products: nectar and pollen. Nectar gives bees the sugars they need (carbohydrates) while pollen provides the protein and fats. Everyone can help increase the availability of pollinator food by increasing the numbers of native, pollinator-friendly plants. This can be done in 2 main ways: plant more flowers, and reduce the amount of mowing we do. There are many lists of pollinator-friendly garden plants, here are some tips from the David Suzuki Foundation. Reducing the frequency and intensity of lawn-mowing has been proven to increase bee habitat, diversity, and abundance. Just by mowing half the amount that you normally would, you significantly increase the natural floral resources. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to mow less!
Wild, native bees nest either in small holes in the ground (below-ground nesters) or in empty plant stems and holes in wooden structures (above-ground nesters). The best way to help below-ground nesters is to leave some small patches of well-drained soil exposed. They will dig into the soil and lay their eggs underground. We can help above-ground nesters by leaving some some old plant stems and materials from when plants die.
A note on bee hotels
Bee hotels are now widely-available as a method of increasing habitat for above-ground nesting bees. If you are going to invest in a bee hotel for your backyard, you also have to be willing to spend some time on its upkeep. Bee hotels can often be hotspots of parasites and diseases, because they group many nests together. This means that it is very important to replace or clean the tubes in your bee hotel every season. Some hotels will have replaceable tubes, while others should be cleaned out with a straw-cleaner after the residents have hatched out in the spring.