We often think of urban areas as concrete jungles devoid of nature. Still, appropriately managed urban regions can enhance the conservation of bees and act as hotspots for the pollination services that bees provide to flowers and urban gardens.
Incorporating native flowers and plants in urban areas is a super-easy way to make cities feel alive and vibrant and provide the critical habitat necessary to support a diversity of pollinators. Once there is a sufficient supply of pollen and nectar, add a solitary bee house or hotel and watch the plants benefit from the pollinator services of the bees. In return, the bees benefit from the nectar and pollen produced by the plants! This post highlights 5 urban habitats that can be pollinator hotspots and prime real estate for bee houses and hotels.
1. Plant Windowsill Flower/Garden Boxes or Living Walls
Windowsill flower/garden boxes are a simple but effective way to add pollinator-friendly plants to urban areas. Windowsill boxes can be set up in any climate and typically require minimal maintenance once installed. Just secure the box to your window, add soil and native plants that bloom throughout the year, and just like that, you've created aesthetically pleasing nectar and pollen resources for native bees!
Another option is to create a living wall. Urban areas typically have an abundance of unused space in the form of roofs and walls, which can be transformed into living walls to support urban pollinators. There are many different styles and ways to construct these vertical gardens, but a quick google search will reveal a diversity of DIY options. Just remember to use native pollinator-friendly plants! Check out our blog post How To - A Guide to Native Plant Gardening to learn more about the importance of native plants to pollinators.
2. Green Roofs or Rooftop Gardens
Even though pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies can move between patches of habitat more easily than species without wings, continuous habitat is still preferred. Green roofs and rooftop gardens are ways to create healthy pollinator habitats (along with numerous other benefits) without using any additional space. But, it's essential to keep in mind that the height of the roof matters. A study out of Toronto found that low to mid-rise buildings (5 stories or less) had the highest level of bee and wasp diversity and buildings over eight stories were not attractive to cavity-nesting bees and wasps.
I know that green roofs are more expensive than most of us can afford, but if your office building already has one, you might want to consider speaking to the manager about installing a bee hotel. Helpful talking points, 1) solitary bees are super pollinators, and 2) most solitary bees are gentle and rarely sting!
Alternately, if you have access to a flat low to mid-rise roof, it would be a perfect place for a couple of raised beds - filled with native plants, of course!
Check out the video below to learn how The UpGarden P-Patch in Seattle, Washington incorporated solitary bees into their community gardens.
But what about the unlucky urbanites without any outdoor space? If you don't have anywhere to plant flowers or install a bee hotel, partner with someone who does, like a community or school garden!
3. Community Gardens
A community garden can transform an empty lot or park into a beautiful urban pollinator hot spot that benefits both pollinators and people! Community gardens support people by improving physical and mental health, providing food security, and positively impacting the aesthetics of urban areas. Plus, with their abundant floral resources, urban community gardens can play an important role in pollinator conservation. At the same time, the gardens themselves are dependent upon the pollination services provided by insects. So, by adding solitary bees in community gardens, we help contribute to urban agriculture and pollinator conservation!
4. School Gardens
Besides providing shelter for native bees, bee houses and hotels are useful for pollinator education, outreach, and citizen science. There is a wide diversity of bees across the United States, but many people only know of honey bees and bumble bees. Bee hotels can help introduce students and community members to native pollinators and their vital role in food production and offer a way to connect with nature in an urban setting.
If you are a parent or educator, consider incorporating native plants and solitary bees into your existing school garden OR working with the administration to build a school garden program. The Collective School Garden Network has a library of resources that demonstrate the value and purpose of school gardens, steps to building a school garden, and funding opportunities to help schools finance start-up and maintenance costs.
5. Sidewalk Strips and Urban Rain Gardens
It's common to see lots of concrete, wires, and signs while walking around urban areas. However, where local ordinances allow, planting between the sidewalk and the street (sometimes called the "hellstrip") can create urban pollinator hotspots. It is becoming more and more frequent to use these spaces to plant for pollinators or create rain gardens. Frequently, local volunteers or land stewardship groups come together to plant and maintain these spaces. If you're interested in volunteering your time to help green up your urban area, an excellent place to start is with your local parks department, nature center, or local environmental NGOs.
I hope this post demonstrates that just because you live in an urban environment doesn't mean you can't create pollinator habitats and raise solitary bees. I'll end with this quote from Vicky Wojcik, Research Director at Pollinator Partnership (P2), "When you plant just one pollinator-friendly plant, that's a piece of habitat that didn't exist before."
As the human population increases and our urban landscapes continue to grow - habitat is lost. While bees don't need large patches of land to survive and can quickly move around urban landscapes, they need nesting habitat and pollen and nectar sources. Filling our urban landscape with small but numerous patches of native habitat can help sustain bee biodiversity in our urban areas.