“Save the bees” was a slogan that circulated after scientists warned that essential pollinators are heading for extinction due to several factors like human-induced climate change and a lack of crop diversification in large-scale agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that 30% of all food-producing plants in the entire world rely on animal pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, wasps and flies. One study estimates that animal pollination contributes between $235 billion and $577 billion to the global economy annually. A decline in the global pollinator population could result in devastating effects that would be felt by the entire world, experts say.

How to help the pollinators

Thomas Bench is the founder of the Hollow Tree Honey Foundation, a nonprofit based in Sandy dedicated to bee conservation. When thinking of ways to make a yard or outdoor space suitable for pollinators, Bench suggests a more laid-back approach; “What’s the least amount of effort to do the most amount of good?”

Pollinator conservation can be boiled down to two essential factors, Bench says: Food and shelter.

“I’ve seen it firsthand, where people put up a little bit of pollinator habitat, the bee activity just explodes,” he said. Bench noted that after several homes in his neighborhood planted wildflowers and placed bee habitats, the place “came back to life.”

“Bees are incredibly hardy creatures, they’re survivors. So give them a chance by feeding them a little, a little effort will go a long way.

For example, skipping on mowing the lawns is a simple, yet untraditional, way people around the country and the world are working to make food more plentiful for pollinators in urban areas. When a yard is left unmowed, plants in the grass that feed pollinators, such as dandelions, are allowed to bloom and provide nectar.

“It’s a weird rebellion,” Bench said, remarking on the ways people turn away from traditional lawn care to make their yards more sustainable for pollinators.

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A queen bee, center, is surrounded by others in a hive tended by Tom Bench, owner of Hollow Tree Honey, in Sandy on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The dos and don’ts of pollinator-friendly lawn care

Don’ts: Many common decorative plants such as common turf, tulips, petunias and marigolds do little for pollinators. Utah State University says that through years of artificial breeding, these flowers have lost the interest of bees.

“None of the grasses are gonna be helpful for the bees because they only produce a little bit of pollen,” Bench said. “If someone uses a lot of pesticides and the lawn is perfect with nothing but grass in there, it won’t do anything” for pollinators.

Bench said fertilizers and pesticides can be harmful to pollinator life, but if one chooses to use these chemicals in their yard, he suggested using organic alternatives. Spreading chemicals on a lawn at night when pollinators aren’t flying, and during times when the ground isn’t wet will minimize any harmful effects the chemicals can have.

Dos: “There are a lot of simple things that are in people’s control ... it’s as simple as landscaping your yard ... buy something that’s bee-friendly instead of any old flower,” Bench said.

Leaving sections of unexposed dirt and leaves on the ground can offer places for native, ground-dwelling bees to nest over the winter. Bench suggests planting a wildflower mix in a place that frequently receives water as a simple and eye-catching way to bring pollinators to a space. He referenced a mix offered by the Hollow Tree nonprofit that is filled with a mix of annuals and perennials that pollinators will love.

For beginner pollinator gardens, USU recommends choosing plants that are accessible and easy to grow, and for Utah, that can mean plants that don’t take much water. Some water-wise, yet bee-friendly plants include:

  • Rocky Mountain bee plant.
  • Sunflower.
  • Coriander.
  • Dill.
  • Parsley.
  • Lavender.
  • Oregano.
  • Rosemary.
  • Sage.
  • Thyme.
  • Blanket flower.
  • Blue flax.
  • Black-eyed Susan.
  • Purple coneflower.

Other pollinator-friendly plants that are easy to grow in Utah include:

  • Blue mist spirea.
  • Fernbush.
  • Rabbitbrush.
  • Squash, gourds, pumpkins.
  • Prairie clover.
  • Sweet vetch.
  • Hyssop.
  • Mint.
  • Catmint.
  • Penstemon.
  • Russian sage.
  • Raspberries & blackberries.
  • Willow.
  • Sedum.
  • Goldenrod.

Everyone can help save the pollinators

Even people with small yards, balconies, or no yard at all can assist in saving our pollinators. One way to do so is by hydrating pollinators by leaving a shallow container filled with a little bit of water and pebbles. Little space is required for providing shelter for pollinators. Whether you have a large yard or not, a bee-nesting box can be placed away from the rain, over time, the pollinators will claim it as their home.

One way to live a pollinator-conscious lifestyle is by supporting local agriculture by shopping at farmer’s markets or grocery stores that source food from local farmers and buying local honey.

“Shop with local farmers and agriculture co-ops, they are like so much friendlier to the bees because they have a mutually beneficial relationship (with the pollinators,)” Bench said. “The more we can get away from massive agricultural operations, the more we can support smaller-scale farmers, which is better for pollinators.”

Within Utah, there are several bee-conservation groups like the Hollow Tree Foundation that provide community members with ways to aid in conservation, no matter their situation.

“In urban areas, people ask us, ‘I heard the bees are dying, what can I do to help?’ So we give them something simple and say, ‘Hey, go plant these seeds and put up a bee-nesting box ...’ If everyone did, the pollinator health in the valley would just explode basically,” Bench said.

“Putting concrete and grass on the whole valley, which is what we’ve been doing for the last 150 years, is terrible for pollinators. I love to drive on the roads and play on grass, but if we can just be a little more intentional, our pollinators would thrive,” Bench said.

Tom Bench, owner of Hollow Tree Honey, inspects the health of some of his hives in Sandy on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News