Donna Legare

Herbs in the Landscape – Beautiful and Convenient

I like to use fresh, organically grown herbs when I cook. It’s easy to do because I can just step out to my garden and clip whatever I need – spearmint for one recipe, rosemary, garlic chives or Greek oregano for another. Some of my other reliable perennial herbs such as pineapple sage, lemon grass, Mexican tarragon and lemon verbena are usually dormant in early spring but reliably sprout back as the weather warms and are beginning to make an appearance now. Basil is a warm weather annual that must be re-planted in April.

All of the herbs mentioned above are very easy to grow; not one is finicky as long as it is planted in the right place. You do not need a special herb garden in order to grow herbs. You can place them in the existing landscape or grow them in containers. I planted a bay laurel as part of our foundation planting at the front of our house. The rest of our herbs are mixed in with butterfly, hummingbird and bee plants in a garden in the sun.

Most herbs such as rosemary, creeping thyme and Greek oregano need at least six hours of sun each day and well-drained soil. If you are starting a new garden by preparing a bed, mix in a generous amount of mushroom compost or your own compost to condition the soil before planting. If your soil is mostly hard-packed clay, you may want to consider planting in large containers or in a raised bed filled with a good topsoil/compost mixture.

Some herbs, like lemon balm, spearmint and others in the mint family can handle more shade. Most mints spread aggressively. For this reason, I confine my spearmint to an antique black kettle on our front steps. The kettle has a crack in it, which provides necessary drainage.

Herbs are among the prettiest plants in our yard. Prostrate rosemary cascades over the edge of our limestone rock wall and is in bloom just about year round. Bumblebees are regular visitors to the small blue flowers. The showy red blossoms of pineapple sage attract hummingbirds and butterflies each autumn, and bronze fennel and parsley are hosts to the caterpillar that will become the graceful black swallowtail butterfly.

Herbs are easy to grow, fragrant, attractive to wildlife and useful in cooking. They are also quite pretty in cut flower and foliage arrangements. Choose one or two herbs and get started today – you’ll be glad you did.

Post Date: 4/2/15

Blueberries are Pollinated by Native Bees

In the last few weeks of March last year I watched some very busy bees visiting flowers of the native highbush blueberry bush planted just outside my home office window. They also visited the hybrid rabbiteye blueberry bushes in our yard and at the nursery. They look and sound like bumble bees, except they are smaller and faster. These are Southeastern blueberry bees, native to the southeastern U. S., and they forage primarily on blueberries. What amazes me is that they are active only for a short period of time each year, which coincides with blueberry flowering of mid March into April in our area. Blueberry flowers are visited by honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and the southeastern blueberry bee. Carpenter bees are nectar robbers. They are able to make a small slit at the base of the flower to rob nectar without brushing against the pollen structures. For this reason, they are not good pollinators of blueberries. The non-native honey bee commonly uses the holes made by carpenter bees.

Blueberry flowers contain a male part called an anther that is tubular in shape with an opening at one end from which the pollen is dispersed. The blueberry bee attaches to the flower and vibrates her flight muscles very rapidly which causes the anther to work like a salt shaker, shaking pollen out of the opening. This is called buzz pollination. When the bee goes to the next flower, her vibrating flight muscles shake out pollen again and also causes the pollen clinging to her body to attach to the stigma, the female part of the flower. Thus pollination occurs, resulting in the eventual delicious blueberry fruit surrounding the seeds.

Honey bees are not able to buzz pollinate. Bumble bees can pollinate blueberry flowers successfully through buzz pollination but their numbers are comparatively low in early spring. They are, however, the major pollinators of tomato plants which also need buzz pollination.

So where and how do these blueberry bees live? They are solitary ground nesting bees. They dig burrows in sandy or loose soil. Sometimes they burrow beneath hardwood forest leaf litter or in the walls of earthen holes, perhaps where a tree was uprooted exposing a hole and soft soil.

Ground nesting bees choose a bare, sunny spot that is not likely to flood. They dig a long tunnel slightly wider than their own bodies. They may do this by themselves or they may do it in the company of other bees of their own species. They are still solitary in that each bee digs her own nest and provisions her own brood. At the end of the tunnel, she builds a brood cell chamber for one baby, a larva. The mother bee fills the brood cell with enough pollen and nectar for one bee to grow from egg to adult. She lays an egg and seals the chamber .Then she may add branches to the tunnel where she provisions another cell at the end of each branch. Blueberry bees produce one generation per year and adults are active for only 3-5 weeks.

Solitary bees do not have colonies to defend, so would only sting if you accidentally crushed them. Don't be afraid to get up close to watch these blueberry bees moving quickly from flower to flower, gathering pollen.

There are three things you can do to encourage Southeastern blueberry bees. First plant their favorite plant, blueberry bushes! Second, avoid using pesticides. Blueberries are generally pest free and very easy to grow, but you also should not use lawn pesticides which could affect underground nesting bees. Finally, allow natural patches of exposed soil as part of the habitat in your yard; this could be an area of patchy lawn or mowed weeds. Loosen up a little and have a slightly wilder yard.

For more information about Southeastern blueberry bees and other native bees such as bumble bees and sweat bees, contact The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at