By Michael Hoyal, Intern at SAWS Conservation. There are at least 1,100 (maybe as many as 1,500) distinct species of bees native to Texas. Native bees are one of the key pollinators responsible for the wellbeing of our ecosystems and agriculture.

Flowering plant species rely on bees to transfer pollen for reproduction and to make seeds and fruit. According to Cornell entomologist Bryan Danforth, native bees are two to three times more effective at pollination than non-native honeybees. One reason for this is because honeybees are largely seeking nectar, while native bees generally seek pollen and spread it at a much higher rate. Furthermore, while honeybees tend to visit many flowers on the same plant, native bees are more wide ranging, carrying their pollen from plant to plant. This means that plants pollinated by native bees produce offspring that are far more genetically diverse, and therefore healthier. So, since our native bees are so important to our ecosystems, how do we best support them?

First, provide habitat for them to nest. While honeybees and bumblebees are hive builders, native bees either nest in the ground, in dead plant stems or dead wood. As you mulch your beds this summer, leave a portion uncovered for ground dwelling bees to nest. And if you have a few dead plants courtesy of the current drought, leaving dead stems can provide terrific habitat for bees and other beneficial insects.

Consider buying or making a bee house for dead wood nesters. Bee houses are like bird houses but filled with nesting material for native bees. This can consist of tubes of cardboard, lake reeds, pieces of untreated wood with holes drilled partly through, and more! The more types of material you use the better as different bees prefer different nesting materials. Also, make sure the bee house has an overhanging roof to protect it from harsh weather. A happy house makes for a happy bee.

The next important thing is to make sure your bees are well fed. Bees are such good pollinators because they broadly pollinate a large variety of plants while looking for nectar and pollen. And while this is true for bees on average, some native bees are also specialists, meaning they prefer the pollen of specific native plants. To support all our native bees (even our specialists), plant a large variety of native plants so bees have blooms (and food) year-round.

Some great plants for native bees that you might see in bloom this summer include plains coreopsis, Indian blanket, bush sunflower, cowpen daisy, gray goldenrod and compass plant. Check out this full list of native plants in our region that support pollinators (pdf).

This summer remember to “bee” responsible for the little ones in your life. Remember that using harsh chemicals like insecticides, pesticides or herbicides will hurt native bees as well as other beneficial insects.

Written by GardenStyleSanAntonio