When all of our beautiful flowers are in bloom, bees are everywhere in the landscape. Some people really get scared about getting stung.
We have to remember that bees are good guys in the garden! Fruit trees, farm crops, and almost all native plants depend on bees, our best pollinators, to reproduce. Farmers go as far as renting bee hives from bee keepers to pollinate their crops. But that doesn’t mean bees are welcome in everyone’s landscape.
Some people (0.4 percent of the population) have serious allergic reactions to bee stings. They’re always concerned when they see any kind of bee.
Dozens of true bee species are in Augusta gardens. Most are small and rarely sting. Or if they do, their stings are mild. In my entire adult life I have never been stung by any kind of bee in the garden despite being surrounded by bees nine months of the year.
Most insect stings, though, aren’t from bumblebees or even honeybees. The number one culprit is the yellow jacket.
These ground-dwelling wasps are fairly aggressive scavengers. They’re attracted to anything sweet or rotting. You can be in a 100 acre lawn with no flowers and still be stung by yellow jackets.
Even then, these insects are only reacting to perceived threats to their nests when they sting. They’re not out to get you.
Honeybees and bumblebees definitely have better things to do than search you out. Following a few common-sense rules will keep your chances of being stung in the garden rare.
Strong perfumes, for instance, may attract defensive insects if you are near their nests. Sometimes what you eat for breakfast can attract a bee. The odor of banana, for example, mimics an alarm chemical honeybees use to alert nest-mates to danger. Even knowing this fact, I eat a banana almost every morning and again, never get stung.
In the garden, keep three things in mind:
• Move slowly, especially near flowers bees are feeding on.
• Watch your hands. If you brush a bee off a flower, it may instinctively cling to you. If you do nothing, it will almost always fly off. This may require a minute or so of bravery. If it stays on your shirt or skin, slow brushing off will usually do the trick. Never try to hit, swat, or pick off a bee.
• Never go into a garden or lawn with bare feet. Tell your children that stepping on a honeybee in clover is a common way to get stung.
Watch for insect nests, too. Bumblebees and yellow jackets rear their young in shallow underground nests. Bumblebees prefer grassy areas at the edge of woods or near large rocks. Several years ago, I had a bumblebee nest in a prominent place all summer long in my back yard. We left it alone and no one ever got stung.
Yellow jackets seem to like soft soil in the sun but protected by grass or other small plants. They tend to nest in the ground in a place people normally don’t frequent, such as on the outer edge of the landscape or in a landscape bed.
Look for insects flying back and forth in the same direction near the ground. That’s almost always a sign that a colony is nearby.
You can also grow plants that don’t attract stinging insects. Whatever attracts hummingbirds and butterflies will attract scads of bees. But don’t mow off the butterfly garden yet.
Many of the most attractive plants are natives. Joe Pye weed, for instance, attracts wasps and yellow jackets like a magnet. Monarda, Echinacea and even azaleas attract bees.
Many ornamental imports lure bees, too. Good examples are abelia bushes, chaste tree (Vitex), butterfly bushes (Buddlea), hybrid azaleas, and perennials and annuals such as Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia), salvias, snapdragons, sedums and phlox.
Plants that don’t attract bees are less common. They include cultivars of dianthus, geraniums, chrysanthemums, marigolds, strawflowers, some zinnias, and many roses.
Reach Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County, at (706) 821-2349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.