Pollinator Habitat Restoration for the Home Gardener, Part 1: Bees

By Hope Johnson

(Part 1 of 2. See Part 2 for information about promoting butterfly and hummingbird habitat).

Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation are serious threats to the survival of pollinators.  There are three basic pollinator habitat requirements:

1.  Flower-rich foraging areas and water source.

2.  Suitable host plants or nests where they can lay eggs and/or raise brood.

3. Environment free of pesticides.

This blog series will focus on the habitat needs of bees (social and native solitary), and the butterflies and hummingbirds which are the pollinators we most often encounter and recognize in our home gardens.


Of the 20,000 species of bees worldwide, 4,000 are native to the U.S. and 90% of these are solitary. These include bumble, mason, and ground-nesting bees. The domesticated honeybee is a European import.

Bees prefer purple, yellow and white flowers and see ultraviolet color patterns, such as shape and color ‘nectar guide” patterns that provide clues to the location of nectar in the flower.  Not surprisingly, sequential bloom  is important for forage all season long. So, what to plant?

Here's a list of Top Ten Perennials for bees and other pollinators from Annie White at University of Vermont:

1. Monarda fistulosa, Bee Balm.  More resistant to powdery mildew than M. didyma (red).

2. Aster Nova-angliae. late season nectar source (for Monarchs, too).

3. Eupatorium purpureum, Joe Pye weed.

4. Penstemon digitalis, foxglove beardtongue, native.

5. Veronicastrum virginicum, Culver’s root. Blooms late summer.

6. Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed.  Deer and rabbit repellant.

7. Lupinis premis, Sundial lupine.  Host plant for butterflies and native to Vermont.

8. Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet honeysuckle. Native and blooms June to September.

9. Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower.  native to NY and CT, composite flower.

10. Agastache foeniculum, anise hyssop.  Native to NY and NH.

Other ways to promote habitat? Seventy percent of bees live in the ground and these include the squash bees that nest in the ground near the squash and cucumbers they pollinate.  Preserve areas of bare or sparsely vegetated well-drained soil and avoid compaction of same. Also preserve dead or dying trees and hold the fall clean-up since tunnel nesting bees rest in the debris. Create your own wooden net blocks or bundles of hollow stems.

Avoid using insecticides containing systemic neurotoxin neonicotinoids especially Imidacloprid and Clothianidin that linger in the soil and can remain active for a year or more. Neonics are absorbed by the plant and dispersed in plant tissues including pollen and nectar and they are toxic to bees and beneficial insects. Although there is conflicting evidence that neonicotinoids cause colony collapse disorder for honeybees, there is increasing evidence that topical or ingested exposure in bees retards colony growth, impairs navigation and foraging behavior and may increase their susceptibility to other pathogens such as mites, bacteria and fungal infections. See Friends of the Earth Bee Safe Gardening Tips for a full list of neonics to avoid.

Bee in squash blossom

Local Resources

“The Buzz on Designing Pollinator Friendly Landscapes”

Annie White, UVM Graduate Research Assistant.  Presented at 2013 Flower and Garden Show, Burlington, VT.  At PollinatorGardens.org, see “Top ten perennial plant choices for pollinators” and  “Designing pollinator-friendly  landscapes”.

“Enhancing Pollinator Populations for Farms and Gardens”, presentation by John and Nancy Hayden of The Farm Between at NOFA Winter Conference 2014.   At thefarmbetween.com, see full powerpoint presentation and info on June 30th, 2014 Pollinator Workshop.

“Attracting and Conserving Native Pollinators”, presented by Anne Dannenberg, Pollinator Habitat Consultant, a One Night University class at Access CVU, 3/10/14. Contact:  acd@gmavt.net

Echinacea purpurea