Bumblebees Part 3: Attracting Bumblebees

Note to readers: I apologize for the long wait between installments in this series. My modem died early Monday morning and was not replaced until yesterday. For previous installments in this series please see The Funny Fuzzy Bumblebee, Bumblebee Lives, and Bumblebee Watching.

BUMBLEBEES WILL VISIT almost any nectar-producing plant. If you have a butterfly, hummingbird, or herb garden you almost certainly will see bumblebees as well. Of course, it’s essential that the garden be pesticide-free!

Bear in mind that “old-fashioned” and wild varieties of plants are often better nectar-producers than modern hybrids. Herbaceous plants that have a reputation for being especially attractive to bumblebees include monkshood (caution: this plant is poisonous), red clover, asters, goldenrod, foxglove, germander, Joe pye weed, sedum “Autumn joy,” oregano, thyme, globe-thistle, hyssop, lavender, chives, penstemons, rosemary, and sunflowers. I especially urge you to try the North American native fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and marsh marigold (Caltha palustris). It's quite likely that you can also find native species of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), asters (Aster spp.), penstemons (Penstemon spp.), or monkshoods (Aconitum spp.).

Shrubs and small trees that attract bumblebees reportedly include blackberry, blueberry, gooseberry, huckleberry, raspberry, wild rose, spirea, willow, serviceberry, cherry, crabapple, and rhododendron. Native willows (Salix spp.) are important for queen bumblebees early in the season, as they are among the first plants to produce abundant pollen.

To provide good habitat for bumblebees, don’t make your flower garden or the area around it too tidy. If the queens are to find spots where they can build hibernacula and nests, you’ll have to leave “natural” areas full of shrubs and groundcovers, brush piles, areas of unmowed grass, and patches of bare, soft earth. You’ll also want to tolerate and even learn to enjoy native species of mice, keeping in mind that they (like all native wildlife) have an important role to play in nature’s great comedy-drama.
This series of posts on bumblebees is taken from an article I originally wrote for Northwest Garden News.

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