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Be a good host to your garden visitors

That little bee visiting a sunflower could probably use a drink of water, too.
(Photos: Kathy Morrison)
Ways to be hospitable beyond planting pollinators' favorite flowers

By Katthy Morrison

You've been trying to choose plants that bring bees and other pollinators to your garden. (See our
May 23 post. ) Good. Now, focus on what they need to stick around.

-- Water.

-- Places to sleep or nest.

-- Food for caterpillars, the next generation of butterflies.


Bees need water as much as they need flowers. I've been reading up on water sources, and discovered bees need a dry spot to land on while they drink. The first idea I found -- a pan filled with marbles or rocks that stuck up above the water level -- turned out to be impractical in Sacramento summer weather. The rocks got hot and heated the water, which then evaporated quickly.

I have a 5-gallon bucket of water with corks (and a touch of chlorine beach)
for a bee watering hole. Important: Don't use a deep bucket if you have small
children, who could be attracted to the corks and fall in. And keep any filled water
source out of the reach of children. (I chose the tall bucket so my cat wouldn't
use it -- she has her own water bowl.)
The latest one I've discovered seems practical and easy to do: Fill a bucket, trough or shallow bird bath with water and float a number of wine corks in it. The corks move just a little, preventing mosquitos from laying eggs in the water. They also bob above the water, allowing the bees to drink without getting wet. One beekeeper I read recommends adding 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach, when first creating the water source, to the bucket so the bees can smell their way to the site. After that, they'll know how to find it and you can skip the bleach subsequently.

Of course a little fountain with dribbling water is a welcome spot for birds and other insects, as well as bees, if you have the space and the cash.

Places to sleep or nest

Most bees in California are not as social as the imported honey bee and the native bumblebees. These "solitary" native bees include mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees. Many species dig tunnels in the ground to build their nests; others find holes and cracks to nest in. So leave some soil bare to encourage ground-nesting bees -- you don't have to cover every inch of garden with mulch.

A mason bee "hotel" can be used by other cavity-nesting species, too. It's made from paper straws or hollow plant stems, up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Tubes can also be made from rolled parchment (baking) paper. They should be at least 4 inches long, but no longer than 8 inches. Places the tubes in a sturdy frame with a back on it -- even a clean coffee can will work. Hang it facing east, in a somewhat protected spot where it won't swing in the wind. Replace the tubes each year in winter before nesting season starts again.

Food for caterpillars

Caterpillars chew leaves. It's a hard, cold fact that if you want butterflies, you have to grow the native plants their offspring will eat -- and then let them eat the plants. No pesticides, please! Chewed leaves on your native plants mean you have life out there, so stop worrying about "perfect" plants and enjoy the living world. has recently added a great feature to its plant database site: A search function for native butterflies' host plants in your or any Californian's location. Enter "Sacramento" in the address finder,  for example, and up pops a list (with photos) of 85 native butterfly and moth species. Click on any one of those -- let's try the western tiger swallowtail -- and you get a list of 16 likely host plants for it that are native to Sacramento. Valley oaks ( Quercus lobata ), interior live oaks ( Quercus wislizeni ) and several willows are among them.  Natives for natives!


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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