Landscaping for Pollinator Diversity: Q&A from a Recent Ready, Set, GROW! Gardening Webinar

Southwest Yard & Garden

Guest Authors: Dr. Amanda Skidmore and Dr. Ge Zhang

Dr. Skidmore (NMSU Extension Integrated Pest Management Specialist) and Dr. Zhang (IPM Postdoctoral Researcher) are based at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas


Wild bees are important pollinators. Photo credit Miranda Kersten.

Q&A from a Recent Ready, Set, GROW! Gardening Webinar

Are all bees beneficial?

For the most part, yes. Wild bees and honey bees need pollen and nectar to survive and establish their nests. Some bees can become pests when they build nests in areas where humans (or animals) live and play, but even those bees offer benefits as pollinators. Many bees look for open cavities or cracks in trees and walls where they can build their nests. To prevent bees from being pests in structures, patch holes or use screening. 

Does compost interfere with ground-nesting bee habitat?

If compost is incorporated into the soil, it should not be a problem for ground-nesting bees. These important bees seek loose soils and freshly tilled earth to build nests in, so they may actually prefer areas with incorporated compost. A couple of notes: 1) Thick layers of mulch or compost on top of the main soil layer may prevent ground-nesting pollinators from accessing nesting sites. Try to leave some bare-ground areas in your yard. 2) If the material you are composting with has been treated with an herbicide or insecticide (e.g., grass clippings, weeds), chemical compounds can remain active and, in some cases, harm bees and other beneficial arthropods in the area.


Where is the best place to hang artificial bee houses?

Bee houses can be a great way to observe pollinators in your yard (and can be especially fun for kids). If you want to install one, place it in an area where it will not be in direct sunlight all day (under a tree or off the shadier side of a porch) and near flowers and habitat resources. Note: You must clean your bee houses every spring (after old bees emerge and before new bees are looking to nest). The old, previously used houses can be a source of disease spread and kill more pollinators than they help. One strategy is to use rolled up paper linings in each hole. They can easily be removed and replaced on an annual basis.


Bumble bee photo from NMSU Extension Guide H-172, “Backyard Beneficial Insects in NewMexico.” Photo credit Ashley Bennett.


Do all insects see pixelated images?

Insects have compound eyes that are made up of individual lenses called ommatidium. The more ommatidia an insect has, the clearer it can see. For example, flies, praying mantises, and dragonflies often have large eyes with lots of ommatidia because they rely on vision to navigate the world around them. Other insects, like many beetles, ants, and aphids, have smaller eyes and use other senses to navigate.


How did scientists discover how insects see?

All the info you could ever want and more:


Can bees be kept in higher elevations/colder climates (e.g., Los Alamos County)?

Honey bees adapt to a wide range of climates and elevations, from the hot arid desert (like Saudi Araba) and humid rainforest (like the Amazon forest) to arctic zones (like Alaska) and from lowland to highland. These management tips can help keep healthy bee colonies in colder climates: Buying bees from a local beekeeper who has kept local bees for years could give you a higher chance of getting cold-resistant stock. During long, cold winters, both wrapping hives with a cover and placing hives in a sunny, sheltered spot to block strong winds can help bees survive better. Before winter, make sure bee hives have abundant honey. If honey stores are low, supplement with liquid and solid sugar.


Two wild bees are sharing this flower. Photo credit Miranda Kersten.

Do honey bees compete with wild bees? Will wild bees be pushed out of a yard or neighborhood by honey bees kept in a backyard?

Honey bees can compete with wild bees because honey bees may overlap with wild bees in flowers where they collect nectar or pollen for food. However, honey bees are not the direct cause of wild bee decline.  Honey bees are generalist foragers, but they do not necessarily use all floral species in a landscape. Honey bees can also be actively collecting nectar at different times of the day compared to wild bees. For example, some large-bodied wild bees (bumble bees and carpenter bees) forage in the early morning with cooler temperatures when honey bees are inactive. Landscaping with a diversity of flower shapes and colors can attract different bee species and reduce competition between honey bees and wild bees, thus supporting both beekeeping practice and wild bee populations.


How much yard space do you need to have a healthy beehive?

The space to support a healthy beehive is scenario-dependent. Because honey bees can fly up to about six miles to collect nectar and pollen, the carrying capacity of a given space depends on the abundance of floral resources grown in that yard and the larger surrounding area. Plentiful floral resources within a short distance to beehives can enhance honey bee foraging efficiency by saving energy during flight. Considering the dry climate in New Mexico and relatively low flower density in the desert landscape, much more property is recommended to support a healthy beehive. In a flower-rich habitat and landscape, multiple colonies can be supported per acre of land.


What’s the latest on Varroa mite control?

Integrated pest management (IPM) is the most recent and recommended Varroa mite control technique. IPM of Varroa suggests three tiers of control approaches: first monitoring Varroa infestation levels, secondly cultural and mechanical control, and finally resorting to chemical control. Preventive measures (cultural and mechanical control) include common practices like rearing Varroa-resistant stock, breaking in brood cycle, trapping Varroa mites using a drone comb, and using a bottom board. For chemical control, organic pesticides (such as thymol, formic acid, or oxalic acid) are better choices than synthetic pesticides (such as amitraz). Monitoring Varroa mite numbers is the base of pesticide treatment for Varroa.


Is rosemary a good honey bee plant? I think that is what I see around my rosemary plants.

  • Yes, rosemary is a good source of food for honey bees.

Long-horned bee on Macdougal verbena flower. Photo credit Miranda Kersten.

Are there preferred ways to provide clean water for bees? How clean is clean? Will a birdbath be too dirty for the bees?

Tap water is clean enough for honey bees to drink. Do not feed bees with water after washing dishes or hands with detergent. When filling a container with water, adding some stones or twigs will help them access the water and avoid drowning in the container. A birdbath is OK for honey bee drinking. Note: If you use a hand sprayer or wash something (car, pressure washer) that results in pooling or standing water, pollinators and other arthropods might be attracted to it. Residual chemicals in these solutions can cause toxicity. It is recommended to rinse an area thoroughly and always follow disposal instructions on labeled products.  


Is overhead spray irrigation better than drip irrigation for a bee/butterfly garden?

Theoretically, spray irrigation can interrupt flower-visiting activities of these pollinators in the garden. Droplets in the air can make flight harder and wash out or muddy the pollen, making pollen collection harder. Pollinators will turn to an undisturbed garden from a sprayed garden to collect their food. In contrast, drip irrigation will have minimal interruption on foraging activities of pollinators. One solution is to only use sprinklers at times when bees are not actively foraging (evening, predawn).


Do we have leafcutter bees in New Mexico?

Leafcutter bees are living in New Mexico. Most members of this family nest in holes in dead wood or hollow twigs. They get their common name because they use chewed leaves or mud to construct and seal their nests. Some of these species cut neat, almost circular holes from the leaf edges on roses and other landscape plants. Generally, this damage is not sufficient to affect the growth of the plant.


Related NMSU Extension Publications

·         “Pocket Guide to the Native Bees of New Mexico”

·         “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Home Gardeners” Circular 655

·         “Backyard Beneficial Insects in New Mexico” Guide H-172

Find a recording of the presentation that inspired all of these questions, “Designing Landscapes for Diversity,” at While you’re there, register for one (or all) of our upcoming Ready, Set, GROW! gardening webinars.

Link to educational webinar series:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Urban Horticulture page at Desert Blooms ( and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at


Guest authors Dr. Amanda Skidmore (NMSU Extension Integrated Pest Management Specialist) and Dr. Ge Zhang (IPM Postdoctoral Researcher) are based at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas with regular author Dr. Marisa Thompson (NMSU Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist). Follow the NMSU IPM Program on Instagram: @nmsu_ipm.



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