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A Bee Garden for Attracting Osmia


bulletPlants for eastern and midwestern Osmia populations
bulletPlants visited by Californian and western Osmia populations
bulletA bee garden for pollen bees
bulletA Note to Fruit Growers
bulletLinks to other sites with bee garden suggestions:


If you are rearing mason bees, Osmia lignaria (the blue orchard bee or the orchard mason bee) and O. cornifrons (the hornfaced bee)for orchard pollination, you may want to provide plants nearby to prolong the nesting period, and maximize your bee yields. The blue orchard bee is most abundant in May though females may sometimes be present through mid-June, depending on the weather. Unlike honeybees and bumblebees, you don't have to supply flowers for the entire season to keep a colony alive. You just want blooms for a couple of weeks beyond fruit tree bloom to keep the solitary female foragers alive. Furthermore, you don't want plants that are more attractive than your fruit trees while the trees are blooming, at least not within the flight range of your bees.

Since you are probably interested in using these bees to pollinate fruit trees, the best bet for maximizing the reproduction of Osmia is to plant a diversity of fruit trees with staggered bloom. Put the bees in the orchard when the first variety comes in to bloom, and they will have trees to forage from for an extended period of time. At peak bloom bees will move a maximum radius of about 11 tree rows. They will move further at the end of bloom. If another set of trees comes into bloom a distance away, they will abscond from their old nests to find a closer nesting site. Bees can be moved overnight with some success from an orchard going out of bloom to one coming in to bloom, but they must be moved at least 3 miles to force them to reorient. It is best to have nests in a trailer if you expect to have to move them around. This not only makes moving easier, it also gives the bees a good landmark for orientation.

In addition to staggering bees on apricot, peaches, plums, cherries, apple, and pear, consider ornamental varieties of these trees. The bees don't care if the fruit is edible for people, they are interested in pollen and nectar. Other plants in the Rose family, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and of course, rose (single petal varieties) are probably good choices.

Other trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are also acceptable for blue orchard bees. The Catalog of Hymenoptera of America North of Mexico lists many plants on which this species has been collected. The plants most likely to attract blue orchard bees are listed in Table 1. O. cornifrons will also forage from these species. The list is divided by plants where O. l. lignaria, the eastern and midwestern populations of this bee, were collected, and plants where O. l. propinqua, the western populations were collected. Many of the plants in the west will not grow very well in the East, and vice versa. However, some plants could be listed in both lists but are not, apparently because records of collections were only made in one part of the country. Plants like rose, strawberry, clover, crane's bill, radish and mustards will grow throughout the US, and are likely to be attractive to O. lignaria. Contact a good nursery or your Cooperative Extension Service Office for advice on what plants will grow in your area, and whether they bloom before, during, or at the end of fruit tree bloom. I've also put some comments and a rating system with my impressions about which plants should or should not provide Osmia with lots of pollen and nectar.

This list by no means exhausts the possibilities for Osmia forage. In his book about the orchard mason bee, Brian Griffin raves about the shrub Pieris Japonica (Andromeda japonica) for attracting Osmia lignaria. Suzanne Batra claims it also attracts O. cornifrons. She also recommends two honeysuckle bushes, Lonicera fragrantissima (Chinese winter honeysuckle) for before fruit bloom, and Lonicera tatarica (Tatarian honeysuckle) for after fruit bloom. Look around the natural habitat, and in your neighbor's yards for foraging Osmia to get more ideas.

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Table 1: Plants visited by Osmia lignaria
the Blue Orchard Bee or Orchard Mason Bee

Scientific Name Common Name Notes

Plants for Eastern and Midwestern Osmia populations

Trees and Shrubs   .
Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud .
Malus Apple .
Ribes Currant, gooseberry .
Rosa Rose Early blooming, single varieties are best, e.g, Rugosa roses
Rubus Raspberry, blackberry .
Salix Willow .
Prunus Plum, prune, peach, nectarine, chokecherry etc. .
Viburnum American cranberry, highbush .
   .  .
Perennials and Annuals  .
Fragaria Strawberry .
Geranium Cranesbill .
Hydrophyllum Waterleaf Wildflower
Taraxacum Dandelion mow them while fruit trees are in bloom, let them flower after

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Plants visited by Californian and western Osmia populations (Many are also available and useful in the Eastern USA)

Trees and Shrubs  .  .
Cercis occidentalis Western Redbud Eastern, Chinese and Mexican Redbud also available; may be useful
Cytisus scoparius Broom Several species available commercially; some have escaped and become a problem in California.
Prunus Plum, prune, peach, nectarine, chokecherry ..
Ribes Current, gooseberry .
Rubus blackberry, raspberry, thimbleberry .
Salix Willows .
 .  .  .
Perennials and Annuals  
Amsinckia Fiddleneck wildflower
Brassica Mustards Annual; let them flower (bolt)
Clarkia Godetia and others Showy flowers; nice in a garden. Pollen may be too large for Osmia to collect, but nectar will be attractive.
Hydrophyllum Waterleaf Wildflower
Nemophila exilis, menziesii Baby blue eyes  .
Penstemon Beard tongue Not the red flowered species. Purples, blues may be ok.
Phacelia Phacelia Used by Phil Torchio to rear Osmia in the greenhouse, so it must be a good choice.
Raphanus sativus Radish Let them bloom!
Salvia carduacea Salvia, sage Avoid reds, long-tubed flowers. Species grown as herbs may be especially useful.
Senecio Cineraria, Dusty Miller Daisy-like flowers. Some are vines or shrubs.
Taraxacum vulgare   Mow them while fruit trees are in bloom, let them flower after
Trifolium repens White clover .
Vicia californicum Vetch .

(Source: Krombein et al., 1979, Catalog of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico.
Vol. 2 Smithsonian Institution Press p. 2032.
Common names were taken from the Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995,
and Peterson Guide to Eastern Wildflowers)

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A Bee Garden for Pollen Bees

There are about 3,500 species of native bees in the USA. What can you plant in your garden to attract native bees over the entire season?.

There is lots of information in gardening literature about plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, but much less about plants that attract bees, especially alternative bee species. Many flowers are known from scientific literature to be pollinated by bumblebees, and there are scattered records from taxonomic literature on the plants where solitary bees have been collected. Here are some general suggestions. If you are interested in promoting pollen bees in general, you want to have a variety of plants blooming in your garden all season, to maintain a wide diversity of spring, summer, and early fall bee species.

First, avoid horticultural plants that are described as "double". This usually means that the plant has been selected to develop extra petals instead of anthers. So there will be little or no pollen available for bees. All bees need pollen as food for their offspring, and will not be attracted to double flowers unless they happen to produce lots of nectar. Marigolds, mums, many roses, etc. will attract few bees species unless you plant the single varieties.

Bees tend to be attracted especially to flowers that are blue, purple, and yellow. Many hummingbird pollinated flowers have evolved to be red in color They also tend to have deep tubes. Butterflies may also be attracted to such flowers. Hawkmoths also like deep-tubed white flowers, that produce scent at night. Bees generally don't visit such flowers, although there are exceptions. Flowers with short tubes or no tubes are more likely to attract a variety of bees.

Members of the daisy family, Compositae, often attract lots of bees. I've seen lots of bees on Cosmos, Zinnia, and Dahlia (single. Again, avoid the double varieties. Sunflowers attract lots of native bees. The pollenless varieties have only nectar rewards; you will attract more bees if you plant sunflower varieties with pollen.

Small, shallow flowers such as mustards, valerian, buttercup, goldenrods, asters yarrow (Achillea sp.) and Queen Anne's lace attract a great variety of short-tongued bees and beneficial hover-flies.

Members of the mint family are also attractive to many long-tongued.bees. This includes many herbs such as sage (salvia), oregano, lavender, and mint as well as native plants like Nepeta, and Stachys. Their nectar is the main attractant.

Some leaf-cutting bees are attracted to members of the legume family, particularly clovers, and sweet clovers. I've seen carpenter bees en masse on Wisteria in the Boston area. Wisteria flowers require a large bee pollinator.

Long-tongued bumble bees are attracted to flowers with deep corollas and hidden nectar spurs, as in larkspur, delphinium, monkshood, jewelweed, bergamot, columbine, blue and yellow penstemons, false dragonhead, mimulus, and snapdragon. They are great buzz pollinators of solanaceous flowers such as nightshade, tomato, eggplant and potato, and bell shaped flowers like blueberry and arctostaphylus.

Many of the plants mentioned above will attract mid and late-season pollen bees and honeybees, but they bloom too late for Osmia, which is active in the spring.

Do you have any favorite flowers, annuals, perennials, shrubs or trees that attract alternative bees to your garden? Let me know and I'll include them in a revised list in the future.
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A note to fruit growers

Dr. Suzanne Batra, USDA solitary bee authority, adds the following note for fruit growers: (February, 1998)

Two honeysuckle bushes provide food for hornfaced bees and orchard bees before and after fruit trees bloom. They are perennial, non-invasive, and easy to grow. Many other bee species, including honey bees, like them.

1) Before fruit bloom: Lonicera fragrantissima (Chinese winter honeysuckle - very fragrant). Sources:
bulletCarroll Gardens, P.O. Box 310, Westminster, Md. 21157 (301-848-5422)
bulletEastern Plant Specialties, P.O. Box 226, Georgetown, ME 04548 (732-382-2508)
bulletForestfarm, 990 Tetherow Rd., Williams, OR 97544 (503-846-6963)
bulletMellingers, 2310 W. South Range Rd., North Lima, Ohio 44452 (216-549-9861)
2) After fruit bloom: Lonicera tatarica (Tataria honeysuckle). Readily available. Birds like the fruit.

Links to other sites with bee garden suggestions:

 USDA Logan Labs Web Site.
Xerces Society: Plant lists
The Melissa Garden, Hearldsburg, CA 
The Urban Bee Project:    
USDA Carl Hayden Bee Lab, Tuscon AZ, Web Site
Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond 

Bumblebee Gardens
Plants of Interest to Bumblebees (Tom Clothier's Website)
The Wisconsin Bumblebee (Paul Oliphant's Website)

Michigan State University Native Plant Guide for beneficial insects 

Top of Page  Pollinator Paradise      Pollination Ecology at UI    The Solitary Bee Web   
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New Mexico Native Bee Pollinator Project
   About Dr. Strickler
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Updated March 26, 2001.
Copyright 2000, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.