PollinateTO is accepting applications – get funding to create pollinator gardens in your neighbourhood! Apply now!

 

Toronto is home to over 360 species of bees!

Native bees and honey bees are threatened by:

  • Habitat loss
  • Invasive species
  • Diseases
  • Pesticides
  • Climate change
  • Extreme weather

Learn more about native bees and honey bees and what you can do to help by exploring the sections below.

Wild About Bees flyer – printable pdf flyer.

Let’s start by exploring the differences between wild, native bees and European honey bees—and why it matters.

The buzz on native bees

  • Native bees are the most specialized and efficient pollinators. It is through pollination that plants produce seeds, fruits, and new plants.
  • Some species of native bees are in drastic decline.
  • When native bees disappear, they disappear forever.

The buzz on honey bees

  • Honey bees are a non-native species, introduced from Europe, used in agriculture to pollinate crops and managed, as livestock, by beekeepers to produce honey.
  • Honey bees are dying in large numbers but they are not an endangered  species.
  • When a honey bee colony dies, more honey bees can be purchased and new colonies  started.

Did you know?

The Rusty-patched bumblebee—one of the most common native bees in southern Ontario just 50 years ago—hasn’t been seen in the wild in Ontario since 2009.

Native Bees Honey Bees
More than 360 species exist in Toronto, over 600 in Ontario, and over 800 across Canada A single monoculture species, Apis mellifera, is commonly farmed in Canada
Once lost, they cannot be replaced When a colony dies, bees can be purchased to start a new colony
Wild Managed by humans
Some species are endangered Not endangered
Primarily solitary Social, live in colonies
Nest in the ground or in cavities Live in hives
Do not produce honey as they are dormant in winter Produce honey for overwintering
Wide range of colours, including green, blue, red and purple Black and yellow
Most species don’t sting Sting
Have evolutionary, dependent relationships with native plants Have no evolutionary, dependent relationships with native plants

 

Meet Toronto’s Official Bee – learn about this native green metallic sweat bee and why it was selected to be our official bee.

 

You’ve heard about the pollinator crisis, you’ve heard that bees are in trouble, you’ve heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, and you want to do something to help. Interest in backyard beekeeping is growing, but is it the right thing to do?

Keeping honey bees doesn’t help to save wild bees, much like keeping backyard hens doesn’t save wild birds.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Keeping European honey bees in your backyard does nothing to help native bees and may actually harm them.
  • Research suggests that honey bees may be a factor in the decline of some species of native bees; they can outcompete native bees for nectar and pollen, spread diseases and parasites, and negatively affect the reproductive health of native bees.
  • Backyard beekeeping is a highly specialized hobby that requires time, skill, careful attention, and mentorship. If not done properly, it can have negative—and even dire—consequences for Ontario’s beekeeping industry, small-scale hobbyists, and wild, native   bees.
  • The Ontario Bees Act requires all beekeepers to register their hives with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It also requires all hives to be at least 30 metres from a property line, which prohibits most Toronto homeowners from keeping honey bees in their backyards.

A single honey bee hive can contain 50,000 honey bees, which can consume the amount of pollen needed to feed about 110,000 offspring of a single native bee.

Are you thinking of buying managed bees, such as honey bees? Here are some questions to ask yourself first – Considerations for Buying Managed Bees from Pollination Guelph.

Create a pollinator garden!

The easiest and most effective way to help native pollinators is to plant native plants. By planting native plants, you will be providing much-needed habitat that native bees need to survive.

Native plants provide pollen and nectar which they need to feed themselves and their larvae, as well as places to nest and overwinter.

You can create pollinator habitat in your yard, on your balcony,  at your condo or apartment building, at your office, school, faith centre, community garden—everywhere!

See our garden tips and plant list in the sections below to get you started.

An ideal pollinator garden will include the following:

  • food sources – such as pollen and nectar from native flowers
  • nesting and overwintering sites – such as bare soil, hollow stems, and leaves
  • larval host plants – such as milkweed

Here are some tips to help you create a new pollinator garden or transform your existing garden to be more pollinator-friendly. The plants you choose and how you maintain your garden are important considerations.

Planting tips:

  • Plant native: Choose native plants, trees and shrubs rich in pollen and nectar. Locally grown and pesticide free are best.
  • Plant host plants: Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants. Monarch butterflies, for example, will only lay their eggs on milkweed, the sole food source for their larva.
  • Provide continuous bloom: Pollinators need a continuous source of pollen and nectar so select a variety of plants that will bloom from spring to fall.
  • Mass plantings: Planting multiples of the same plant together in large groupings makes it easier for pollinators to find and collect pollen.
  • Plant single bloom varieties: The petals of double or triple bloom varieties can block access to pollen and nectar.
  • Prevent the spread of invasive plants: Monitor your property for invasive plants and remove them when detected. The invasive dog-strangling vine has a negative impact on Monarchs – female butterflies mistakenly lay their eggs on it since it’s in the milkweed family, instead of native milkweeds, causing their larvae to starve.

Other garden elements:

  • Provide water: A birdbath or shallow dish of water with half submerged rocks will help bees and butterflies quench their thirst.
  • Provide sun: Butterflies like to bask in the sun, so place a few flat rocks in sunny, sheltered locations.

Maintenance tips:

  • Limit mulch: Many native bees build nests in soil, so leave some bare patches of soil and limit your use of mulch.
  • Leave dead stems: Some bees hibernate and lay eggs in hollow stems. If you do cut, leave the bottom 8 inches in place and bundle the cut stems and place them in your garden. Bundles of sticks and stems that are put out for yard waste collection too early in spring will often contain overwintering bees. In the spring, wait until temperatures are consistently above 10o Celsius before cleaning up your garden.
  • Keep your dead wood: Large branches and decaying logs can be kept in a sunny spot to provide much-needed overwintering habitat for bees and other wildlife.
  • Leave the leaves: Leave the leaves where they fall or rake them into your garden to provide overwintering habitat for butterflies.
  • Avoid tilling: Keep large patches of land unmown and untilled to provide secure and undisturbed nesting sites for ground-nesting bees.
  • Minimize manicuring: A perfectly manicured lawn is a food desert for pollinators. Natural gardens and lawns offer the most benefits for pollinators in terms of food and nesting spots.
  • Reduce mowing: To avoid disturbing ground-nesting bees, mow your lawn less often and set the blade at the highest level possible.
  • Prune and deadhead: Remove dead flower heads to encourage new growth and a longer flowering season.
  • Avoid pesticides: Avoid plants/seeds treated with systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids. And don’t spray pesticides. Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw bans the cosmetic use of pesticides.
  • Keep it natural: Converting a lawn or garden to concrete, gravel, mulch or artificial turf reduces valuable food and nesting sites.

Choosing native wildflowers can make your garden beautiful, easy to maintain and help support local pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Here are some native plants organized by season to help you provide a continuous source of food for pollinators. We’ve also indicated growing conditions in sun or shade.

Spring:

Common Name (Scientific Name) Likes sunny spots Likes sunny or shady spots Likes shady spots Larval host plant
False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) yes yes
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) yes yes yes
Hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) yes yes
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) yes yes

Summer:

Common Name (Scientific Name) Likes sunny spots Likes sunny or shady spots Likes shady spots Larval host plant
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) yes yes
Bee balm (Monarda didyma) yes yes
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) yes
Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) yes
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) yes
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) yes yes
Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) yes
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) yes yes
Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) yes
Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) yes
Dense blazing star (Liatris spicata) yes
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) yes
Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) yes
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) yes yes
Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) yes
Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) yes yes
Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum) yes
Lance-leaved coreopsis (C. lanceolata) yes
Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) yes yes
Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) yes
Pearly everlasting (A. margaritacea) yes yes
Showy tick trefoil (D. canadense) yes yes
Swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) yes yes
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) yes yes
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) yes
Virginia mountain mint (P. virginianum) yes
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) yes
Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) yes

Fall:

Common Name (Scientific Name) Likes sunny spots Likes sunny or shady spots Likes shady spots Larval host plant
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) yes
Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) yes
Woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) yes yes yes

 

 

Native trees and shrubs offer benefits to pollinators too. Here are a few to consider based on size and moist soil conditions (see rain garden species).

Large species:

Small to medium species:

Rain garden species:

 

More native species profiles:

Get to know Goldenrod brochure – includes the information below and photos of goldenrod species.

Looking for a great plant to support pollinators? Say hello to goldenrod!

A hardy native plant with many different species adapted to a wide range of growing conditions, there’s a goldenrod that’s right for every garden. And when you plant goldenrod in your yard, on your balcony or in a community garden, the birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators will all benefit.

To set the record straight: goldenrod does not cause hay fever. Ragweed, in bloom at the same time, is the hay fever culprit. Goldenrod is insect-pollinated. It has heavy, sticky pollen that doesn’t fly on the wind, so adding goldenrod to your garden will not cause discomfort to hay fever sufferers.

The Goods on Goldenrod

  • There are more than 25 species of goldenrod native to Ontario.
  • Goldenrod supports more than 100 species of moths and butterflies in their larval stage.
  • More than 35 species of bees are specialist feeders on goldenrod pollen.
  • Goldenrod blooms in late summer into the fall, and its nectar is an important late-season food source for pollinators.

Goldenrods for Shade

These species grow naturally in forests and are great for shady garden areas.

Zig zag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis):

Broad, dark green leaves with saw-toothed edges. Growth form is upright; stems have a bent, zig-zag pattern. Spreads by underground rhizomes and multiplies, though not aggressively. Delicately scented blooms are bright yellow in many small clusters where the leaves meet the stem. Grows well in large containers on a shady balcony.

Blue-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia):

Tolerates somewhat dry and sandy soils. Long stems arc outwards in a circle, with bright yellow flowers in clusters held close to the stem. Leaves are narrow with serrated edges; stems have a waxy coating that tinges them blue. As it matures, forms a large clump.

Goldenrods for Part-Sun

These adaptable species, from sun to part-sun, do well in the dappled conditions found under some types of trees.

Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis):

Extremely tough. Flourishing in gravelly soil, it’s a great container plant, too. Stems and leaves are covered in dense, velvety white hairs. Pyramid-shaped flower clusters arrayed at the end of stems.

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor):

One of two goldenrod species in Ontario with white flowers instead of the usual yellow. (The other is Solidago ptarmicoides.) Growth form is upright, with large leaves at the base becoming smaller towards the middle. Flowers cluster tightly around the central stem of the leaf-less top half of the plant.

Goldenrods for Full Sun

These species are very drought-tolerant and thrive in open, sunny areas.

Grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia):

Long, slender leaves and a flower cluster that is branched and “flat-topped,” rather than pyramid or rod-shaped; airy, elegant appearance. Can become “top heavy,” so grow it alongside other tall meadow plants for support.

Early goldenrod (Solidago juncea):

Flower clusters look like tasselled golden pyramids. Long and thick, leathery green leaves form a cluster at the base of the plant, from which the tall stem emerges in summer. Usually the first goldenrod to bloom, often in early August.

Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida):

Excellent showpiece, with broad leaves and stout stems that are velvety with short white hairs. Clusters of dense and abundant yellow flowers. Thrives in hot, dry conditions. Grows to an impressive size.

Goldenrods for Sunny and Wet Areas / Rain Gardens

Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis):

Thrives in moist areas—near a downspout or a low area, for example. Flower cluster is flat-topped, open and airy. Stems are upright and stout.

Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), and Giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea):

These three species are very similar in appearance, and are likely to volunteer in gardens, with seeds blowing in on the wind. All have three prominent veins on lower leaves, and tassel/pyramid-shaped flower clusters. Can be vigorous, and even aggressive (spreading by underground rhizomes), but can be managed by pulling up stems or growing in containers.

 

Myth: Goldenrod is too aggressive for the garden.

Myth-buster: Three species of goldenrod–Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) and Giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea)–are highly successful spreaders in small gardens. In large gardens or tough spots where little else will grow, this is a very useful feature! In small gardens, consider planting some of the other beautiful goldenrods listed on this page.

Did you know?

  • Some species of goldenrod are rare in the wild. (Don’t dig up any plants from natural areas!)
  • Native goldenrods are exceptionally valuable for pollinators, providing nectar and pollen in late summer through fall. Goldenrod provides crucial fuel for migrating butterflies such as monarchs, and for queen bumblebees preparing for winter.
  • Goldenrods support a broad array of beneficial insects, and some of the relationships between goldenrod and insects have evolved to be specialized and dependent.
  • Many species of goldenrod grow tall. If you’d like to keep it shorter, try this trick: in late June or early July, cut the stems back by half. It will keep growing, becoming bushy, and will still flower in late summer, in a more compact form.
  • You can grow goldenrod in a pot on your balcony or deck. Try these species in containers:
    • Silverrod (Solidago bicolor)
    • Gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)
    • Grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)
    • Zig zag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
    • Early goldenrod (Solidago juncea)
    • Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima)
    • Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
    • Giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea)

 

Download this information: Get to know Goldenrod brochure – includes photos of the goldenrod species mentioned here.

Text by Lorraine Johnson and Ryan Godfrey, Project Swallowtail

Wild about Bees: Pollinator Garden Resource List