Bees and other pollinators play an important role in the garden. As it turns out, the garden also plays an integral role in their lives. Bees collect nectar for energy and pollen for protein and take these back to the hive to support the queen and younger generations.
In collecting the things they need to thrive, they do us the favor of increasing our yield. They cause more flowers to bloom on healthier plants and more plants to grow from fertilized seeds, as well as increasing the amount of fruits (and vegetables) that the garden produces.
You can do many things to draw bees and pollinators to your garden. For instance, bees love flowers in the blue and purple color family. Many herbs produce flowers in these colors, which also have appealing fragrances.
Growing plants that provide a lot of nectar and pollen will also draw bees, as will planting large quantities of flowering plants in close proximity. Growing native plants supports native bees and butterflies as well.
In addition to providing food sources, another essential item to keep in your pollinator garden is a water feature. A water feature can be made from a variety of different materials and be as simple or ornate as you like.
Let’s discuss the way that water features are essential for pollinator gardens. We will go over the reason that water is important to the garden, how we can guide bees to the water, and some of the ways that you can make your water feature most accessible.
Why is Water Important for Bees?
Honey bees use the water they gather during their journeys in varied ways.
Collecting all of that nectar and pollen is hard work, and bees can easily become dehydrated. If they know that there is a water source nearby, they are more likely to revisit an area to do their work. Quenching their thirst is just one of several ways that honey bees, in particular, utilize the water they collect on their travels.
Some of the other ways honey bees use water are:
- To cool the hive: They bring water back to the hive, where they spread it on the capped cells of the brood. As the water evaporates, it helps cool the brood and regulate the temperature of the hive as a whole.
- To feed the brood: In the hive, nurse bees have the important job of feeding and tending to larvae. They feed their brood with nectar, pollen, royal jelly, and water. In the early days, especially, water is very important to sustaining the larvae.
- To dilute honey: Honey isn’t just a delicious byproduct that bees make for our consumption. Honey is food for them, too. They store honey for the winter dearth, and sometimes it crystalizes or thickens, so they use water to dilute it and make it easier to drink.
How Will The Bees Find My Water Source?
These pollinators adjust their water-seeking behavior based on their seasonal nutritional and mineral requirements.
This is a little bit tricky because bees don’t locate water by sight. Rather, they find water by scent. Studies have shown that bees seek out water with different nutrient or mineral compositions at different times of the year according to their needs, using their sense of smell.
If you are an early riser, you may notice some forager bees in the first hours of daylight collecting dew drops from plant leaves. However, it gets more difficult for them in times of drought, so providing them with a water source helps immensely.
Aquatic Plants and Mosses
Bees tend to find their way to water that smells like moss, aquatic plants, decomposition, and wet earth. Swimming pools also attract them because the chlorine in the water helps control tracheal mites.
Bees won’t seek out clean water like humans do. You don’t need to scrub out your bee watering station regularly or use clean, fresh water every day. In fact, you are more likely to see them drinking water with some algae growing in it because it is easier to locate.
In a nutshell, tap water will not be highly attractive. For most of the year, bees will seek out water sources that contain higher amounts of sodium. Adding some salt to your bee watering station can help them locate it. Saltwater pools will be very appealing in the spring and summer.
In the fall, pollen becomes scarce, so bees need to seek out water to replace the nutrients that pollen typically provides. Water with higher concentrations of potassium, magnesium, and calcium is most attractive during the later months of the year.
Ensure that your watering station is near an area where the bees forage. These pollinators create a roadmap in their mind of places where they can find resources. If the water is too far from the path they typically take, they are unlikely to find it. Placing your watering station close to the plants that bees commonly visit will help them to locate it.
Types of Watering Stations
Your personal preference dictates the energy and resources invested in a watering station.
There are lots of ways to create a watering station in your garden. Here are some DIY options for creating a water feature. Some methods are quite simple and utilitarian, while others are more ornamental and involved.
The amount of energy and resources you put into creating a watering station is up to your personal preference. They will all get the job done, and the bees will be grateful for the water regardless of the vessel as long as it is accessible.
Creating resting spots for your garden helpers is important.
This is my watering station of choice, and I know a lot of hobby beekeepers who feel the same way. I have four birdbath watering stations in my yard, and most of the day, I see bees coming and going in these spots. In terms of expense, this is a middle-of-the-road option.
It’s perfectly fine to allow the water to sit for days or even weeks, and you can even float some flowers on top to entice passing pollinators. They may not notice the water from up above, but they will definitely notice some of their favorite flowers.
Since they are not very good swimmers, giving them something to land on is nice. A handful of small rocks or smooth pebbles is an easy way to create resting spots for your garden helpers. If you want to get fancy, colored glass stones or marbles, make a lively addition and serve a great purpose.
Keep in mind that bee vision is different from ours. They see light in different wavelengths from humans, so they cannot see the color red. It appears to them as black, which indicates danger. Red flowers are the least visited for this reason.
On the other hand, they can see ultraviolet light, so colors like blue and purple are extra appealing to them. Lots of flowers have ultraviolet patterns that we cannot see, but they lure bees toward the pollen in the flower. Isn’t nature incredible?
The water in the pond supports plant life and fish, emitting scents that attract bees.
If you want to go all out and add more living things to your garden, a koi pond is a great water feature. The bees can smell odors produced by the fish and the plant life in the water.
To make your fish pond more hospitable, make sure that bees can get to the water without drowning or getting eaten by a fish. You can accomplish this by creating shallow areas and plants to land on that the fish cannot get to.
While using a liner is great for containing and keeping the pond clean, remember that bees like water that contains salt and other minerals. Allowing the water to come in contact with the earth and rocks will help to provide those minerals.
Bees will tend to hang around the edges of the water and sip from the wet soil. If you use a liner for your pond, sink it down slightly below the surrounding earth so that the soil around the water becomes saturated at the pond’s edge.
Hose or Spigot
Ensure that the water pressure remains low to prevent unnecessary water wastage.
A very slow drip from a hose or spigot is highly likely to draw bees. They need such a small amount of water that just a few drops per minute will probably quench the thirst of every bee in your yard.
A soaker hose is another great way to provide water. You can create a planter using a coiled soaker hose, which will provide a constant source of water for the plants and attract bees to clean up the water outside the planter. Keep the water pressure low to avoid wasting water.
To turn a hummingbird feeder into a bee watering station, fill it with water instead of syrup.
If you have a hummingbird feeder in your yard, you may have noticed bees pay attention to these feeders as much as hummingbirds do. If you want to use a hummingbird feeder as a bee watering station, choose one that is yellow or blue. Simply fill it with water rather than syrup and hang it in the garden.
On the other hand, If you want to keep bees and wasps away from your feeders, buy red ones or paint your existing feeders red. Remember that bees see red as black, and black means danger.
Self-filling Pet Water Bowl
An excellent way to provide a bee watering station with minimal effort is by using gravity-propelled pet watering bowls.
Gravity-propelled pet watering bowls make a great, low-maintenance bee watering station. During warmer months, you are likely to need to refill it more often, as the water evaporates faster from the heat. You can visit less frequently in spring and fall when the weather is cooler.
Make sure to provide a landing spot. If the bowl has a steep, plastic edge, bees will have difficulty holding on, and they will end up slipping into the water. Place some stones in the dish, piling them just above the water level. This gives them a place to rest while they rehydrate.
Terracotta Pot Waterer
Bees find it easier to drink from pots with less steep-sided saucers.
This is about as simple as it gets. Flip a pot over and place the saucer on top. I love terracotta pots for their natural look, but any pot will work as long as the saucer is detachable and holds water.
A clay, stone, or concrete pot has a rough and porous surface that will give some traction. It will be easiest for bees to drink from this type of pot, particularly if the sides of the dish are not very steep. If you use a glazed pot, toss a few rocks in the saucer for a resting spot.
A Tiny Bee Beach
The stronger the scent, the more bees will be drawn to your miniature sanctuary.
We talked about the way that bees are attracted to water by smell. In addition to earthy garden smells, they are attracted to the smell of ocean life. Any shallow dish or container will work for this one. I tend to lean toward glass containers for feeding wildlife, as chemicals in plastic can leach into the water.
Have some leftover oyster shells from that Labor Day cookout? Those are perfect! Don’t worry about getting them clean. The stinkier, the better. Bees will smell the ocean scent from a distance and flock to your tiny bee resort.
You can fill your container with sand as well. Bees will suck the water from the sand in the same way that they will drink from wet soil. You can make small reservoirs in the sand and give them a place to rest around these tiny pools, too!
Opt for a sea sponge in a dish of water to attract bees with its natural scent.
Many items around the house can be repurposed to create a watering station for pollinators. Toss a handful of wine corks in a dish of water. Corks float, and the bees can hold onto them while they drink.
Consider making a bee bar from a bamboo stake and metal or plastic bottle lids. Hot glue can be used to affix the lids along the length of the pole, and then you can stick it in the ground and sprinkle it with the hose from time to time.
A sea sponge in a dish of water is a perfect bee waterer. The scent of a natural sponge will attract the bees, which they can land on. They can drink water directly from the sponge with their long tongues.
Providing a location in the garden where they can rehydrate and obtain water to return to the hive will keep the bees coming back for more. More bees means more flowers for you; let’s face it, we are here for the flowers! Happy gardening, and as always, thank you for helping to keep bee populations healthy and thriving.