A queen bombus centralis bee, a species native to B.C, hunts for a good place to make a nest. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)

A queen bombus centralis bee, a species native to B.C, hunts for a good place to make a nest. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)

Wild bees need messy gardens to survive

The year-long nesting period makes habitat a primary concern for wild bees

Gardeners might be itching to clean up dead leaves and stalks from the winter, but they could be holding wild bees who haven’t emerged yet.

“A big impact is to keep your garden messy. We always have this urge to tidy up but it’s really better to leave things messy,” said research scientist Martina Clausen with UBC’s BeeHIVE Research Cluster and board member with the Native Bee Society of B.C.

“The public usually thinks of honey bees when we talk about saving the bees, but honey bees aren’t the problem. They’re basically pets or even livestock,” she said. Honey bees are not native to Canada, they are bought and sold and are taken care of by a beekeeper year round.

Wild bees are different, and at least some of the 483 recorded species in B.C. are endangered.

Finding a safe place to lay eggs is a primary threat for wild bees. Eggs are laid in the spring, turn into larva throughout the summer, build a cocoon in the fall and emerge as an adult the next spring.

“For that entire year they need a nesting place not disturbed.”

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It’s also important to leave nesting resources, and that means a messy garden. Wild bees often prefer hollow stalks to lay eggs in, others will nest in the ground.

After they lay eggs, bees will close the nest with leaves and resin. Clausen recommends leaving a bit of water too, because bees will use it to make mud to tuck in the nest.

Another important action to help wild bees is to plant wild, native flowers they can use for nectar and pollen.

East coast bee researcher Alana Pindar with the University of Guelph says the question she’s asked the most is when it’s safe to do a spring yard clean-up. Her unpopular answer: never.

“Humans have decided we need to clean and organize land. Truth is, biodiversity is messy, nature is messy, and your yard is part of nature.”


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A native-to-B.C. wild queen bee (bombus melanopygus for those in the know) feeds on a periwinkle flower. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)

A native-to-B.C. wild queen bee (bombus melanopygus for those in the know) feeds on a periwinkle flower. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)