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Ask the Master Gardener: Attract bees to your yard by adding what they need to survive

Bees are like you and me — they need food and water to live.

A bee on a flower.
Attracting and keeping bees in your backyard can be easy, especially if you already enjoy gardening.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service
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Dear Master Gardener: I have read about the decline of the bee population. What can I do to attract bees to my yard?

Answer: In light of growing concern over the recent loss and disappearance of bees and bee colonies many backyard enthusiasts are rediscovering a relatively simple and fun way to assist these essential pollinators. Attracting and keeping bees in your backyard can be easy, especially if you already enjoy gardening.

Bees are like you and me — they need food and water to survive. Bees rely on flowers to supply them with the food they need to survive. There are hundreds of different bee species in Minnesota. Different types of bees prefer different flowers.

Bees are attracted to most flowering plants, and are especially fond of blue and yellow flowers. Other colors such as purple, white and pink also serve to attract bees. Make sure there are plants that will flower during different times of the season to keep your garden flourishing throughout the summer and well into fall. This serves to provide a steady supply of nectar and pollen for bees. A diversity of flowers planted in close proximity to each other strongly attracts bees. Gardens with 10 or more species of flowering plants attract the greatest number of bees. The best plants are those native annual and perennial wildflowers, which naturally grow in our region. For a list of bee friendly plants that can be easily integrated into most landscapes visit the University of Minnesota Bee Lab website www.beelab.umn.edu

Water can be provided in very shallow birdbaths or by adding a quarter inch of sand to a large saucer, such as those designed to fit beneath clay flower pots. Fill the saucer so that the water rises about a quarter inch above the sand. Add a few flat stones, some should rise above the water and some should just touch the surface. These stones will allow bees and other insects to drink without drowning. To avoid creating a mosquito breeding site, be sure to change the water at least twice a week.

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Dear Master Gardener: Should I deadhead my lilies? If so, how?

Answer: Deadhead flowers as they fade by breaking or cutting them off carefully — that way, none of the plant's energy is "wasted" on seed production. Do not remove stems or foliage because they will continue to put energy into the bulb as long as they remain green.

Dear Master Gardener: A friend told me I should side dress my tomatoes. What does that mean and should I be doing it?

Answer: Side dressing your tomatoes or other crops simply means to add fertilizer around the plants. It is a very good idea to give your tomatoes a little extra fertilizer once they start blooming. It is also important not to over fertilize or you will encourage leafy growth at the expense of flower and fruit production. If you are growing your tomatoes in containers, you can fertilize them every one to two weeks using a water-soluble fertilizer.

July Gardening Tips

  • Stop picking rhubarb early this month, even from large, well-established plants. Those large leaves gather energy the rest of the summer for next year’s growth. 
  • Stop harvesting asparagus now to ensure productivity next year.
  • If your tomatoes are growing in containers, fertilize them every week or two, using fertilizer mixed into water. Containers of vegetables and flowers also need frequent feeding because some of their nutrients wash through the soil every time you water or it rains.
  • Water lawns, vegetables and flower gardens early in the day when temperatures are cooler and winds haven’t picked up yet. This helps conserve water by reducing evaporation and lessens the potential for turfgrass disease. Avoid night watering if possible because plants dry more slowly, encouraging fungal disease problems. Do water at night if it’s your only option.
  • It’s important to control weeds in lawns and gardens because they compete for nutrients and water and often harbor damaging insects. In the lawn, weeds typically grow rapidly and spread, while desirable grasses languish in the heat. Don’t spray herbicides once the weather is hot. Herbicide spray and fumes can drift and damage desirable plants. In addition, fertilizer and herbicide applications can burn lawns during hot weather.
  • Remove faded blooms from flowering perennials and annuals. Deadheading promotes continued blooming by preventing plants from setting mature seeds. Many plants grow more slowly once seeds have ripened. 
  • Keep picking peas, beans, peppers, cucumbers — and later tomatoes — to help keep plants productive.
  • Newly planted trees and shrubs need one or two good soakings each week. A 5-gallon bucket, slowly running hose, or soaker hoses laid up-side down on the ground under the branches are all good options. Trees and shrubs planted in the last three years still need extra water during dry periods.
  • Don’t forget to water evergreen trees and shrubs well during hot, dry weather. They don’t wilt to let you know they need water.
  • Early maturing vegetables such as leaf lettuce, spinach and radishes turn bitter and go to seed in July’s heat. Pull them up, add a little fertilizer, and replant with broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower to harvest next fall. 
  • If you have apple trees and want fruit that’s mostly worm-free this fall, you must control apple maggots at the beginning of July. You can spray the tree every 10 to 14 days until harvest, or two days after each rainfall of one-half inch or more. Although it’s less effective, you could hang sticky balls (fake apples) to attract the flies so they don’t lay eggs in the developing fruit. 
  • July is a good month to prune maples and birch and other trees that bleed when pruned in late winter. 
  • Plant balled-and-burlapped or container grown trees and shrubs any time during the season, as long as you are able to water and care for them regularly. Plant trees and shrubs so their first major roots sit just above the soil surface. Carefully remove the soil from the top of the container or root ball to determine where those first roots are located. Make sure to remove all twine and as much of the burlap and wire cage as possible from B&B trees.

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at umnmastergardener@gmail.com and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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