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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Bees and the Care of Fairy Duster Plant

Q. Please help me identify the bees on this fairy duster shrub growing on the Eastern side of a Mesquite home. Additionally, I'd appreciate some pointers on how to help this plant become a healthier better looking shrub. Very little has been done because the bees are usually on it. The bees and I coexist with a healthy respect for each other. I'm hoping they are some type of honey bee.

Pictures of plant sent to me
A. Bees can be difficult to identify through just pictures and I am not an entomologist so it makes the problem worse. Size is probably the first clue to the type of bee. Next is the coloration. When we get into the general size of the honeybee it can get a little difficult whether these bees have been Africanized or if they are leaf cutter bees.
Basil and leaf cutter bee
The other category is whether they are social bees or solitary bees like the leaf cutter. Nearly all of the bees are beneficial whether they make honey or not just because they are our best pollinators. Some bees can be a problem such as the Africanized honey bee or leaf cutter bees.
Bee swarm in a fruit tree
If honeybees have been Africanized they can be aggressive and dangerous. This is the only be that we would consider to be truly dangerous. Other bees of this size like the leaf cutter bee can be a nuisance because it cut circles out of the leaves of some plants such as basil, roses, lilac, bougainvillea and others. Normally these leaves are soft and easily cut by the leaf cutter bee so the female can use it for nesting. Solitary bees normally do not make honey that we can collect. Social bees are the honey makers.

Regardless, all of the bees you are seeing there are friendly and beneficial.
Pollinating peach flower

Fairy duster plant is native to North and Central America growing in warm desert climates and soils. This tells you a little bit about how to manage it. It will tolerate desert soils as well as infrequent watering.

At planting time I would amend the soil with about 25 to 50% compost and make the whole about three times wider than its container. I realize yours is already in the ground so watering and fertilizer applications are important to mention.

Do not water this plant too often. That will be the biggest mistake people make.Fertilize it lightly once in the very early spring around late January or February with a rose type fertilizer. The plant can get 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall in soils that have been amended with compost.

As long as it's in a sunny location you should see a profusion of blooms in the spring and summer months that attract bees, hummingbirds and night flying moths. Quail like to feed on seed from the seed pods. Rabbits like to browse on new growth.

You can clean up the plant in the early spring by removing dead leaves and stems. You will encourage more blooms if the plant is in a sunny location and flowers are removed before they begin to form seedpods.

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