Bee-neficials: It's all about the bees this year

Pollinators are an essential requirement for many of our favorite food crops.

"News on bee and other pollinator populations is everywhere this spring," says Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Pollination is a process that takes place in a flower to transfer pollen from the male the female flower part, thus producing a fruit (or vegetable). There are many ways that plants are pollinated, including wind and animals, Most people think of bees and butterflies when thinking about pollinators, but bats, beetles, moths, flies, hummingbirds, wasps, and more also spread pollen in some plants.

Kelly Allsup, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, provides the following tips to help you choose the right plants and herbs for your pollinator garden.

Pollinator gardens typically contain native perennials such as the aromatic anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), drought-tolerant coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora), spring-blooming wild indigo (Baptisia australis) and the white-flowering foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis). Native insects have evolved with native plants and prefer them to non-native ornamental plants.

Pollinator gardens also incorporate flowering herbs such as lavender, marjoram, oregano, thyme, chives, fennel and parsley. Their aroma and consistent flowering make them attractive to pollinators, and are sources of nectar and pollen for beneficial insects and wasps.

"Provide pollen and nectar sources all throughout the growing season by planting perennials, herbs and ornamentals that flower at different times," said Allsup.

Plant flowers of different colors and contrasting shapes in the pollinator garden. Butterflies are attracted to orange, red and yellow and need a landing platform. Bees are attracted to blue, yellow and white and can see ultraviolet markings, the nectar guides, leading them to the source of nectar and pollen. Hummingbirds prefer plants with long tubular flowers in shades of red.

Allsup urges gardeners to include a decorative bird bath to serve as a source of water for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

She warns that chemical pesticides should not be used on pollinator gardens and surrounding areas. Accept some insect damage, or use organic pesticides.

Want to learn more about bees? Visit the Illinois State Beekeepers Association website at for more information, including details about their annual meeting on June 7, 2014 in Oglesby, Illinois.