WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — A honey bee dipping from flower to flower is one of summer’s iconic images. Wasps feed on your garden, too. As the season draws to a close, however, bees and wasps have fewer pollen choices. That’s when they get more aggressive and are more likely to sting.
Add in the toll that the recent heavy rainstorms have taken on flowering shrubs and trees, and you can have some ornery hornets in your backyard. What’s the best way to minimize bad interactions? For starters, don’t threaten them by getting too close to their nests or brushing the flowers they have lit on. And feed them. Feed them well.
The best way to live with bees and wasps is to fill the yard with a range of plants that bloom at different times, so they’ll have a nectar source throughout their active life cycle. This is also the genesis of a beautiful garden!
Native plants are the most attractive to native bees, so start there. Consider asters, beebalm, columbine, serviceberry, wild rose, purple coneflower and cardinal flower. Bees and wasps not only like variety, they also like color, especially blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.
Not all bees and wasps are the same size, so flowers should be of different shapes to ensure that all the pollinators can reach some nectar. Cluster your flowers so they can sit on one type, dabble and then move to another cluster. In my yard, we have groups of joe pye weed and coneflower. The abundance keeps bees so passive that they will feed happily, even as I’m arranging flower stems to photograph them.
Stings are most likely from bees and wasps that have built nests next to the house, a swing set or some other well-traveled spot. They feel they must defend it.
At our house, we try not to let them build where it will cause conflict. Any start of a wasp nest is brushed away while it is only two to 10 wasps strong. I do it at dusk when they are slow. That usually causes them to choose a better place. If they build without us noticing, we turn to an aerosol wasp-killing pesticide. Once again, do it at dusk so they’re not in a chasing mood and you can get them all. Then remove the nest and clean the area so they don’t rebuild.
Bumblebees nest in underground burrows. If you spot them, keep your children away from that spot. Go for the aerosol if it’s close to the house.
Bees and wasps are important pollinators for plants and fruit. Wasps also consume annoying flies and some caterpillars that are harmful to crops. We love them when we see our wildflowers bloom and munch on the berries and apples that their work has brought to harvest. So keep them happy — then no one will have to run for the ice to soothe a sting.
John Hannan is director of development for Audubon in Connecticut.