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Yardwork got you down? Turns out bees don't like it either

A bee hangs upside down on a white flower
Lydell Rawls
WFSU Public Media
A bee hangs upside down on a white flower

Fall is beginning to slowly cede to winter and in the coming weeks, wildflowers will start to die back, and bees will retreat to their nests. But just because they may not
seen, doesn’t mean they’re gone from our yards.

If someone asked you to picture a bee garden, you might envision flowers surrounded by bees. But some of the most important actions that can be taken to support a bee garden are things done after flowers have lost their blooms.

Getting By With A Little Help From Human Friends

“It's important to remember that a lot of our native bees, when you see them, it's a short little part of their life cycle, usually where they're out and about. The rest of the time they're spending in the ground,” said Mark Tancig, the Horticulture Extension Agent at the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension.

The IFAS Demonstration Garden is divided into different plots--like food plants and flower patches. At the start of Fall, the garden’s flowers were still in full bloom, and there were plenty of ripe peppers and eggplants. Most of the food plants here rely on bees to help them produce fruit.

Florida has over 300 species of native bees. Some of those species, like bumblebees, are out and about for months. Others only fly for a few weeks. The rest of the time, and especially in the winter, they’re in their nests. To see bees on flowers come spring, bees need places to stay during the colder months. Places that can be hard to come by for bees in a human-shaped landscape.

“If you look at all of the different insects, animals that are threatened, endangered, everything says habitat loss. Right. The main concern. So we want to provide them with habitat,” said Tancig.

Habitat like dead wildflowers. Dead wood. Incorporating these materials into the home landscape, even just a little bit, can give bees places to stay during the winter.

A Natural Boost

Over in the In the Apalachicola National Forest, Florida Native Plant Society’s Lilly Anderson-Messec comes across a brown stalk from a dead wildflower.

“Branches and dead stems like this one… are critical for nesting habitat for bees and for overwintering for bees,” she explained.

The fall flowers are just beginning to bloom, while others have died back. Equally important to bees are the fallen branches and bare sandy soil between the plants. Ground nesting bees need exposed soil to dig their nests. But many gardeners line the ground with weed cloth or heavy mulch. Anderson-Messec looks to the forest floor for an alternative.

“You can still use pine straw like this as mulch, and the insects can still move the pine straw and utilize the area. Pine straw is probably your best choice for mulch in your home garden because it's sustainable, it is local, a renewable resource, and it's a part of the natural ecosystems here. So you're recreating the natural ecosystem.”

Dead Wood As Fall Garden Décor

Part of that ecosystem is decaying wood. Fallen branches soften as they break down, making it easier for bees to burrow into them. They can also provide fall garden décor, said IFAS’ Tancig, pointing out how his group incorporates decaying wood into its garden.

“You can see our little path meanders through our little shaded garden here. And we just use the branches that fall to line it along the way.”

Tancig says people don’t have to turn their whole yards into forests-- just leaving a little bit of dead wood and bald spots--even if they’re tucked away and out of sight--can go a long way to helping Florida’s bees.

Editor's Note: This story is part of PBS Nature’s “My Garden of a Thousand Bees” project. Read more at The WFSU Ecology Blog