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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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