Don’t Forget the Trees when Caring for Bees

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Concerns (very valid) over the declining numbers of bees seem to be creating an increasing interest from gardeners in planting species that attract and support pollinators. This is an encouraging development for at least three reasons: One, it’s a good plan and the pollinators will indeed benefit. Two is diversity in the landscape, as in life in general, is a good thing. And three, attention to this issue can help us as a society understand that our individual actions, no matter how small they may seem, can make a difference.

Trees are often overlooked as important pollen and nectar sources. Since most trees flower well above the eye level of the average person, it is easy to forget about them as being important. Trees are great supporters for several reasons; as they mature, each tree can have thousands of flowers, once a tree is planted it is likely there for years, and trees are not considered weeds as are many other bee plants, i.e., they are less likely to be removed with mowers or herbicide applications.

This article was inspired by sitting under a nice Carolina cherry laurel tree during lunch earlier this week. It was alive with insect activity. This old tree is located adjacent to the Sheerar Museum in Stillwater at 7th and Duncan. It’s in full bloom right now, stop by and have a look (and listen) if you get a chance. This tree will also be featured in another article one of these days as it’s a bit of an oddity. According to the literature, it should not be able to survive long term where it’s growing. But as I said, that story is for another day.

Many of our common landscape plants benefit pollinators. Shrubs include blackberries, blueberries (tough to grow here but it can be done), butterfly bush, crapemyrtle, inkberry, Mexican sage, nandina, privet, sand plums, sumac, and vitex.

Trees that favor pollinators for either their pollen or nectar (or both) include American holly, black locust, elm, fruit trees (all), Korean evodia, persimmon, red bud, and willow.

If you are inspired to go plant a tree or three to save the bees, just remember to wait until fall for the best chance at success. Trees planted right now really struggle to get through the summer without a well-established root system.

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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