Gass column: How to 'bee' pollinator-friendly

5 tips to make your garden or flower bed better suited to bees

Chris Gass
Chris Gass

Just a few weeks ago on a fine July Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of taking part in the Oldenburg House’s “Bee Friendly Day." The event, centered around capturing the importance of pollinators in our local region, hosted a variety of pollinator themed activities with something for everyone.

For the garden buffs and flower advocates, I gave a short presentation on behalf of the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District highlighting a little bit about our pollinators and how we can invite them into our landscape.

No surprise there is an abundance of information available and lots that could be shared. But for the sake of this column, I’ll keep it to five key hitters in how you can make your garden, flower bed or whatever managed space of soil you tend better suited to bees and the like:

  1. Do not use pesticides of any kind. This is the golden rule when it comes to being bee-, butterfly- and pollinator-friendly. Pesticides operate to keep insects away from your plants but that means keeping much needed “friendlies” away, too. As such, the use of most all pesticide-branded substances, regardless if organic or naturally based, are harmful to pollinators. Yes, this includes products such as neem oil, boric acid and diatomaceous earth. Pollinator friendly means avoiding the “-cides."
  2. Provide more than just flowers: Pollinators visit flowers for food which we otherwise call pollen and nectar. But a buffet alone won’t support their ability to live. As such, aim to provide a safe dwelling and resting space by leaving bare spaces of soil, dead wood, leaf overhangs, plant debris and other habitat-related amenities.
  3. Minimize “cleanup." Related to the above, home for the bulk of our pollinators is in the stuff we tend to clean out come spring or fall. Leave it in place to supply the lacking housing they need or hide cut stems and plant litter somewhere nearby but just out of sight to maintain places they can dwell.
  4. Use native plants. No surprise, but the plants that originally existed with our pollinators are the greatest resource to them. They feature colors, shapes and blooms that are most easily and readily recognized. Not to mention, they are best adapted to the conditions of our region meaning little fear for their long-term well-being.
  5. Aim for continuous blooms and clusters. A final point to make is that we want to have blooms all season. It’s not only prettier that way, but also provides food and resources the entire time they are active. Just as well, clump the same plants together to make large, easily recognized food banks to minimize travel between flowers.

With that, you now have the building blocks for making a pollinator-friendly space. A tailored list of more information on pollinators and best practices can be found through a resource list we made at or feel free to reach out to our office for more information.

I’ll end by saying that there is no reason to think that your actions in your yard or space are too small to make a difference. A small oasis is an oasis nonetheless.


Chris Gass is a MN GreenCorps member serving at the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District and focusing on stormwater and urban forestry. Reach him at 218-384-3891 ext. 5. Information on the SWCD can be found on Facebook and at

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