Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2019

Nurturing Nature

Creating a Bee-Friendly Backyard

By Jennifer McGuire Cox

When you think of bees, the first thing you might think of is that they sting.  You might even think that all bees are bad.  But the reality is:  those bees you’re so afraid of — those aggressive yellow and black-striped stingers — aren’t actually bees at all!  They’re wasps.  Bees are generally not aggressive and just want to be left alone.  Bees are also critical pollinators.  Bees are responsible for pollinating more than 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including a lot of the foods we eat everyday!

There are more than 400 species of bees in Maryland.  Unfortunately, many bees across the United States are in decline, including those that are found locally.  One way to help native bees is by making your backyard more bee-friendly.  You can do this by:

  1. Planting Natives.  Native plants are those that naturally occupy a particular area, region, habitat, or ecosystem (in our case, Maryland).  Unfortunately, many of the plants you can purchase at Home Depot or at the local garden center originate from Asia, Europe, and other parts of the United States.  Native pollinators such as bees have co-evolved with these native plants and are, thus, more able to pollinate these flowers and extract the pollen and nectar they need to eat and be able to survive.  Try to select native plants that bloom throughout the year to offer a continual source of nectar and pollen for pollinators.  For advice on what natives plants to include in your yard, visit the Maryland Native Plant Society, the University of Maryland Extension, and the Maryland Plant Atlas.  [Also see the Native Plant Guide on the NFCCA website.]

  2. Maintain Habitat.  Bees nest in many different places, including dead trees and stumps, brush piles, and stalks of dead flowers.  Many native bees even nest in the ground, not just yellow jackets.  If possible, try and leave these areas of your yard undisturbed.  At the end of the day, most bees won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

  3. Limit Your Use of Pesticide.  Even though you might not be trying to kill bees by using pesticides, they can be harmful to the critters that frequent your yard.  If you must use pesticide, look for one that doesn’t contain neonicitinoids, and try and limit their application.

Common Bee Myths

  1. All Bees Sting.  Since the stinger is a modified egg-laying apparatus, only female bees have the ability to sting.  Yet even though a bee technically has a stinger, it still doesn’t mean it actually works and can sting.  In some species, there is no stinger at all!

  2. Wasps Are Bees.  Wasps are actually different types of insects than bees.  While bees are vegetarians, collecting pollen and nectar, wasps are actually carnivores.  Some species of wasps can be very aggressive, especially when their nests are disturbed, whereas bees are more docile.

  3. All Bees Leave Together in Groups.  When we think of bees, we might think of honeybees who live in complex hives and societies.  But most bees (90 percent) are actually solitary, interacting only when mating and laying eggs.  These bees can be found living in individual nests tunneled into the ground, in dead wood, in old plant stems, or even in mud or resin in hard surfaces.

  4. All Bees Make Honey.  Less than five percent of all bee species make honey and, of those, only honeybees and stingless bees make enough honey to harvest.

[Cox is a naturalist at Brookside Nature Center and Maydale Conservation Park. She is also a certified Maryland Master Naturalist.  She lives on Belton Road.]   ■

   © 2019 NFCCA  [Source:]